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Former Yorktown catcher Tanner uses his experiences as instructor, coach

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zeth Tanner was 6 when he got his first baseball lesson.

He received the foundation that led him to play in high school, college and, briefly, independent professional ball.

Tanner, 26, is now an instructor at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in his hometown of Yorktown, Ind., as well as a coach with the Indiana Nitro travel organization.

Over the years, Tanner has soaked up diamond knowledge from Kevin Long (current Washington National hitting coach), Mike Stafford (former Ball State and Ohio State assistant), Mike Shirley (Chicago White Sox amateur scouting director), Michael Earley (Arizona State hitting coach), Mike Farrell (Kansas City Royals scout), Kyle Rayl (former Muncie, Ind., area instructor) and more.

“I believe in doing things the right way,” says Tanner, who primarily a catcher and designated hitter in the collegiate and pro ranks. “I don’t like kids talking back to the umpire. Treat people with respect.

“If the umpire makes a bad call, learn from it and move on.”

Playing for former head coach Mike Larrabee at Yorktown (Ind.) High School, Tanner learned the value of hustle. 

The coach gave his biggest praise to the power-hitting Tanner the day he hit a routine pop fly that resulted in him standing on second base when the second baseman mishandled the ball because he took off running at impact.

“You’ve got to work hard,” says Tanner, who was head coach of the 16U Nitro Cardinal and assisted by Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate and NCAA Division I Murray State University pitcher Carter Poiry in the spring and summer and is now an assistant to organization founder Tim Burns with the 16U Nitro Gold. “I’m not a fan of people who just show up to play and don’t do anything in-between the weekends.”

Last weekend was the first of the fall season for the Nitro, which will play most events at Grand Park in Westfield, and close out with a Canes Midwest tournament.

Tanner, who was born in Muncie and raised on a 40-acre horse farm in Yorktown, played for the Nitro when he was 18 after several travel ball experiences, including with USAthletic, Pony Express, Brewers Scout Team and Team Indiana (for the Under Armour Futures Game). 

Tanner has witnessed a change in travel ball since he played at that level.

“There are more team readily available,” says Tanner. “It used to be if you played travel ball you were good. Now it’s more or less watered down.

“You’ll see a really good player with kids I don’t feel are at his level.”

While the Indiana Bulls one of the few elite organization with multiple teams per age group, that is more common these days.

Older brother Zach Tanner played for the Bulls and went on to play at National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Lincoln Trail College (Robinson, Ill.), NCAA Division I Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio) and in the American Association with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and the Grays of the Frontier League before coaching at NJCAA Division III Owens Community College (Perrysburg, Ohio) and NAIA Indiana Wesleyan University.

Zeth Tanner began his college baseball career at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University, redshirting his sophomore season (2015). David Pressley was then the Ravens head coach.

In 2016, Tanner helped Sinclair Community College (Dayton, Ohio) to its first NJCAA Division II World Series berth. The Steve Dintaman-coached Tartan Pride placed third. It’s the furthest Sinclair has gone in the JUCO World Series to date.

Tanner stays in-touch with Dintaman.

“He’s a very good coach and very into the mental game,” says Tanner of Dintaman. “He taught me a lot and has a lot to do with the path that I’m on.”

From Sinclair, Tanner went to NCAA Division II Urbana (Ohio) University and played two seasons (2017 and 2018) for Blue Knights head coach Jake Oester (son of former Cincinnati Reds middle infielder Ron Oester).

“He knows a lot of baseball,” says Tanner of the younger Oester. “He’s a very passionate guy.”

Urbana closed its doors at the end of the 2020 spring semester.

Tanner graduated Magna Cum Laude in Management from Urbana and then signed a professional contract with the Santa Fe (N.M.) Fuego of the independent Pecos League. 

“I really liked it,” says Tanner. “It was 100 degrees almost everyday. But it was a dry heat.

“The ball the flies out of the park like nothing.”

Tanner launched several homers in practice and one in the lone official game that he played.

He was dealt to the White Sands Pupfish (Alamogordo, N.M.). When he was sent to a third Pecos League team — Monterey (Calif.) Amberjacks — he decided it was time to come back to Indiana.

He finished the summer of 2018 playing with his brother on the Portland (Ind.) Rockets and played with that amateur long-established team again in 2019.

Tanner ended up as a Pro X Athlete Development instructor for baseball and softball offering catching, hitting and fielding private training sessions through a Nitro referral and interview with Jay Lehr

Former Muncie Northside High School and University of South Carolina player Mark Taylor is owner of 5 Tool Academy, where Zach Tanner (31) is also an instructor.

Zeth Tanner, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate, swings the bat for Urbana (Ohio) University, where he played baseball and earned a Management degree.
Zeth Tanner swings during 2016 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Wold Series home run derby. Tanner and Sinclair Community College (Dayton, Ohio) placed third in the tournament.
Zeth Tanner (right) gives catching instruction. Tanner teaches baseball lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and at 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown, Ind.
Zeth Tanner (foreground) teaches a catching lesson. Former Yorktown (Ind.) High School catcher Tanner teaches baseball lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown.
Zeth Tanner is a coach in the Indiana Nitro travel baseball organization. He has been working with 16U teams.
Zeth Tanner, a graduate of Yorktown (Ind.) High School and Urbana (Ohio) University, is a baseball instructor and coach. He gives lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown and coaches with the Indiana Nitro travel organization. He played high school, college and pro baseball.

Bloomington-born Wolf brings 1932 back to life with ‘The Called Shot’

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Thomas Wolf knew he wanted to write about the compassionate prison warden who took an inmate serving a life sentence to the World Series.

It became so much more.

Charlie Ireland took charge at Anamosa (Iowa) Men’s Reformatory and soon bonded over baseball and the Chicago Cubs with convicted murderer Harry “Snap” Hortman. The warden made a promise that if the Cubs made it to the Series, Ireland and Hortman would attend games at Wrigley Field

That pledge was kept and they, Charles Ireland (the warden’s son) and inmate Shorty Wakefield were there to see the Cubs take on the New York Yankees in Games 3 and 4 on Oct. 1 and 2 in 1932.

In the fifth inning of Game 3, Babe Ruth ripped the fifth pitch from Charlie Root for a home run. Many of said that the Bambino predicted the blast and pointed to where he would deposit it.

Wolf’s book, “The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs, & The Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932 (Nebraska Press, 2020),” covers that the many events swirling around that fabled clout.

“1932 was such a fascinating year,” says Wolf. “It was a pretty pivotal year in American history.”

On the diamond, there was Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the powerful Yankees, Philadephia Athletics slugger Jimmie Foxx belting 58 home runs and a tight pennant race in the National League.

The 1932 World Series was Ruth’s last. That year was also the final time he hit 40 or more home runs and or drove in 130 or more runs in a season.

The Babe had a rather un-Ruthian 1925 campaign, hitting .290 with 25 home runs and 67 runs batted in over 98 games.

“People were writing him off, saying he was past his prime,” says Wolf. “But he had a lot of gas left in the tank.”

From 1926 through 1932, Ruth hit .353 with 343 homers and drove in 1,070 runs. In 1927, his slash line was .356/60/165.

The Cubs ended up taking the NL flag even though manager Rogers Hornsby was fired after 99 games and replaced by Charlie Grimm. Hornsby was at the end of his playing days and had many legal problems, some related to his gambling habits.

“The Rajah,” who hit .358 from 1915-37 with three .400 seasons (.401 in 1922, .424 in 1924 and .403 in 1925), was known to be a prickly character.

“He did not get along well with other players, managers or management,” says Wolf of Hornsby, who was not voted a World Series share by the ’32 Cubs.

Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot by his girlfriend/showgirl Violet Popovich at the Hotel Carlos on Sheffield Avenue near Wrigley and recovered in time to help Chicago down the stretch.

The Jurges story is likely an inspiration for the 1951 novel, “The Natural” by Bernard Malamude. The movie adaptation stars Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs.

Former player and AL umpire George Moriarty was suspended for a fight with the Chicago White Sox.

After making one big league appearance in 1930, colorful right-hander Dizzy Dean had a breakout year in 1932, winning 18 games for St. Louis Cardinals.

Guy Bush, Kiki Cuyler, Woody English, Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Mark Koenig, Pat Malone and Lon Warneke were among the other key performers for the 1932 Cubs.

The 1932 Yankees, managed by former Cubs skipper Joe McCarthy, also had Sammy Byrd, Ben Chapman, Earle Combs, Frank Crosetti, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Tony Lazzeri, Red Ruffing and Joe Sewell.

Away from baseball, 1932 was a presidential election year. Both the Democrat and Republican nominating conventions were held in Chicago thanks to mayor Anton Cermak

With the Great Depression swirling and World War I veterans staging a Bonus March and then camping out in Washington D.C., Franklin D. Roosevelt would replace Herbert Hoover in the White House. FDR was in attendance at Game 3 of the World Series. 

So was baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis with nephews Charlie and Lincoln Landis from Logansport, Ind., and entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Prohibition was on its way to be repealed in 1933.

Wolf weaves these and other details together in “The Called Shot.”

“It was fascinating to research the ’32 season and challenging to put all the stories together for the book,” says Wolf. “I wanted to tie in the world outside of baseball since 1932 was such an important year in the nation’s history — again, the research was eye-opening for me, and I learned a lot.

“I suppose that’s true for everyone who writes non-fiction — the research exposes us to facts and characters and perceptions about events that we only vaguely knew — in my case, for example, the history of the Bonus Army.”

Wolf enjoyed studying what it was like for ballplayers in the 1930’s. They spent many hours on trains, playing cards and talking baseball. Old players mentored new ones.

In that era, there were eight teams in each league with St. Louis being the farthest point west or south. Likely for monetary reasons, road trips would take weeks. For instance, the Cubs might play games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn, Boston and Cincinnati before coming back to Chicago.

As the Yankees travel from New York to Chicago during the World Series, they made a stop in Elkhart, Ind., to change engines.

“Fifty youngsters charged onto the train and searched for ballplayers,” wrote Wolf in “The Called Shot.” “They found Babe Ruth and mobbed him. Ruth and other players signed autographs for their young fans, and then the youths were shooed from the train.”

The routine and relationships between the press and the ballplayers were different in those days.

Wolf notes that today’s athletes will talk to reporters after a game and then tend to their social media accounts — Instagram, Twitter etc.

“Every player is his own brand,” says Wolf. “They’re in their own world with their own followers.”

Wolf says he first began taking notes for what would become “The Called Shot” around 2000, began the writing process around 2013. 

He began talking to literary agent Stacey Glick in 2007, began working on a book proposal after that and got contract with the University of Nebraska Press around 2013. He turned the manuscript over to UNP early in 2019 then did the bibliography and end notes. 

“It was about a six-year process,” says Wolf.

The book came out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not easy with book stores being closed, book festivals being canceled and newspapers doing less reviews on baseball books.

With the help of Adam Rifenberick of Press Box Publicity, Wolf did about 40 podcasts and radio interviews to promote the book in June and July. He has been on Baseball by the Book Podcast with Justin McGuire (Episode 258) and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schapp (ESPN).

Born in Bloomington, Ind., in 1947, Thomas Wolf is the son of Irvin and Jeanette “Jan” Wolf, who met at Indiana University. Irvin was born and raised in Wabash, Ind., attended Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., and then got a doctorate in psychology at IU. 

Irvin Wolf was a college professor. He was at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill when Thomas was 1 to 7. From second grade through high school, his father taught at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Irvin’s brother, Jack, attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and lived most of his life after college in New York City.

Eugene “Gene” Wolf, grandfather of Thomas and father to Irvin and Jack, moved to Wabash from Germany and was a partner in the Beitman & Wolf department store and married to Rachel Simon Wolf. The Cubs began broadcasting their games on the radio and Gene Wolf became a big fan. He would travel to see games in Chicago.

The ’32 Series was aired by the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS and NBC.

Thomas Wolf has a bachelor’s degree from Knox College Galesburg, Ill., and a master’s in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa.

Wolf taught at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, UNC Chapel Hill and Santa Clara (Calif.) University and was a testing specialist and writing consultant before focusing on writing projects.

Patricia Bryan, Wolf’s wife, is a professor at the UNC School of Law and has been teaching at the university since 1982. She was a visiting professor at her alma mater — the University of Iowa — when she and her husband toured the prison grounds at Anamosa. 

Bryan and Wolf co-authored “Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland (University of Iowa Press, 2007).”

Wolf has produced several articles (many in conjunction with Bryan), including “The Warden Takes a Murderer to the World Series: A Tale of Depression-era Compassion,” “On the Brink: Babe Ruth in Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day,” “The Golden Era of Prison Baseball and the Revenge of Casey Coburn” and “Jack Kerouac and Fantasy Baseball.”

There are plans to write another true crime book set in Iowa.

Wolf has been a regular attendee of the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture and is a Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) member. He says he tapped into the SABR Baseball Biography Project for background on many subjects and Retrosheet for game details in “The Called Shot.”

Thomas Wolf and Patricia Bryan have three sons — John and twins David and Mike. John Wolf (29) is a dog trainer living in North Carolina. David Wolf (27) works in the public relations department for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mike Wolf (27) is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Thomas Wolf, who was born in Bloomington, Ind., is the author of the book, “The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs, & The Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932 (Nebraska Press, 2020).”

Clinton Central, Bowling Green State grad Scott experiences ‘emotional roller coaster’ in first year as baseball coach

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeffery Scott saw the lessons that can be learned from baseball from the time he was a kid playing in Frankfort, Ind., to when he was winding up his playing career at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

It was with the Danny Schmitz-coached Falcons that he decided he wanted to become a coach.

While working on a degree in Sport Management with a minor in Marketing that was achieved in 2019, Scott soaked in information from veteran Schmitz and the other BGSU staffers.

“Coach Schmitz is an old school type of coach,” says Scott. “He has a lot of knowledge about the game. I was able to talk with him everyday and learn stuff.

“I talked with him and the rest of the coaching staff on what to expect. He’s been really good influence on me baseball and life-wise.”

Before his senior year, Scott worked at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and made a determination.

“If I don’t get to play baseball anymore I’d like to stay around the game,” says Scott. “I’d like to be making an impact and sharing my knowledge.”

He wanted to prepare young men for life and to face adversity like you face in baseball.

Scott, who was a catcher and outfielder at Bowling Green State for three seasons (playing in 127 games and starting 114 from 2017-19), made a visit to the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima as a senior and talked with Racers head coach Kory Hartman and his staff and signed on as a graduate assistant. He expects to earn his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) next spring.

“It’s been a really good experience,” says Scott of his time so far with the NAIA-member program. “One of the things that drew me here is that it’s close to Bowling Green State. (Hartman and company) were open to me getting what I want out of this program — to form who I am as a coach.”

Since being at UNOH, a member of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, Scott has absorbed drills and procedures and also enjoyed camaraderie with coaches who like to hang out, fish and hunt together. 

The Racers staff currently counts Hartman, Scott and associate head coach Aaron Lee and two graduate assistants with pitching experience will be hired.

With NAIA’s COVID-19 pandemic-related decision to cancel fall sports, Northwestern Ohio baseball coaches are sorting out what fall will look for the Racers. Students are supposed to be back on campus for face-to-face classes Sept. 14.

“Right now, we’re in a gray area,” says Scott, who turns 25 this month. “We’ll have to figure things out. 

“We hope to get together once or twice a week as a team.”

The 2020 UNOH season came to a halt because of the pandemic on March 8 with the Racers at 8-12. 

Back at Bowling Green State, the NCAA Division I program went on the chopping block.

Baseball was reinstated through the efforts of Schmitz and other baseball alumni. 

“It was an emotional roller coaster for me,” says Scott. “I didn’t know where baseball is headed with the COVID stuff and (colleges and universities) were cutting sports — not just baseball.”

Schmitz was put in charge of alumni outreach at Bowling Green and former Falcons pitching coach Kyle Hallock, whom Scott knew well as a catcher, was named head coach.

“I tip my cap to Danny Schmitz,” says Scott. “I’m sure he reached out to a lot of the alumni. He has made an impact on a lot of people’s lives.”

Bowling Green State baseball has produced many successful people, including those who went on to the pro diamond, including 19 major leaguers. Among that group are current Miami Marlins third baseman Jon Berti and former big leaguers Orel Hershiser (who won a National League Cy Young Award and helped the Los Angeles Dodgers to a World Series win in 1988), Nolan Reimold, Andy Tracy and Roger McDowell.

“It was special to see them step up, donate some money and keep the program,” says Scott.

Frankfort (Ind.) Little League is where Scott got his first taste of organized baseball. Around the same time he also played with a group of local youngsters called the Frankfort Slam. That team was coached by Rodney Smith, Jason Forsythe and at various times, Kent Scott (Jeffery’s father) and Jamie Bolinger (Jeffery’s stepfather).

Kent Scott is employed in Federal-Mogul Powertain in Frankfort.

Jamie Bolinger, who is retired military, works for Lafayette (Ind.) Transitional Housing Center’s Homeless Services.

Maleta Bolinger (Jeffery’s mother) is a registered nurse in Kokomo, Ind.

Shealynne Bolinger (Jeffery’s 19-year-old sister) is finishing up schooling to be a veterinary technician.

Scott and girlfriend Shelby Weaver have been together about nine moths. They also dated in high school. Her son Eli is almost 1.

After spending his 12U summer with the Muncie-based Indiana Wildcats, Jeffery Scott played six travel ball seasons with the Indiana Bulls.

At 13U, he was coached by  John Rigney and Rick Hamm. Brothers Todd Miller and Adam Miller led his team at 14U and 15U. Tony Cookerly, Sean Laird and Jim Fredwell coached his team at 16U. Quinn Moore and Dan Held was in charge at 17U. He played briefly at 18U before going to summer school at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., where he spent a year and a half before transferring to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Kevin Bowers was and still is head coach for the junior college Statesmen.

“He welcomed me in with open arms mid-year,” says Scott of Bowers. “He made me feel a part of the family. I still talk to him quite a bit. He’s definitely been one of my favorite coaches.

“He was genuine, truthful and transparent. He brings in a lot of talent to Lincoln Trail and gets them to where they want to be.”

Though mostly a catcher in the summers, Scott was a shortstop and pitcher at Clinton Central High School in Michigantown, Ind., playing for Bulldogs head coach Eric Flickinger. He also played football for Mike Quick and Justin Schuhmacher and wrestled for Austin Faulkner.

Jeffery Scott observes catchers during a baseball practice as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima. Scott was a catcher at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He is a graduate of BGSU and Clinton Central High School in Michigantown, Ind., near Frankfort. (UNOH Photo)
Jeffery Scott is a 2019 graduate of Bowling Green (Ohio) State University, where he played three baseball for three seasons (2017-19). The graduate of BGSU and Clinton High School in Michigantown, Ind., is a graduate assistant baseball coach at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima. (Bowling Green State University Photo)

Quest for knowledge takes Hall of Fame coach, educator Siler through all of his days

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Curiosity was a part of Dick Siler’s nature.

He wanted to know things.

When you talked with him you knew he was going to ask questions.

“What have you been up to?”

“How’s your mother?”

“Can you tell me something new?”

When he got a chance, he explored historical places and books and soaked in as much new knowledge as he could.

As a coach, he wanted to break down and understand plays and positions so he could convey those to his athletes.

It’s that sense of interest that took Siler through his 84 years.

No doubt he had the sense of wonder as a boy growing up on a poultry farm near Ashland, Ohio, and playing sports on that same land. He was a catcher in baseball and wound up as a center and linebacker in football. 

Too busy on the farm to go into Ashland to play ball, a plot was dedicated for that purpose. Sometimes it was used by the circus.

“It was two thirds football field, one third baseball field,” Siler once said. “The east end zone was just dirt.

“Dad let me use a panel truck,” said Siler. “I contacted people and got eight or nine other guys and we went around and played softball or baseball — probably more softball than baseball.

“If we had two bats, that was great. Most guys didn’t have baseball spikes.”

Siler carried big diamond dreams.

“I loved baseball so much,” said Siler. “I wanted to learn and nobody was teaching me.”

When it came time to play at Ashland High School, Siler (Class of 1953) did not play varsity. Future big league catcher John Roseboro (Class of 1951) was ahead of him.

“He threw a lot harder from his knees than I could shoot a gun behind the plate,” said Siler, who was on the junior varsity as a freshman and sophomore and at the start of his junior year.

Then came a call from the varsity. He got to the game on a Farmall F-20 tractor.

“It’s the only way I could get there,” said Siler. “I had no other vehicle.

“I threw on the gear. I didn’t have time to warm up  They put me right in.”

The first or second runner got on base and went to steal.

“When I threw the ball, I felt like my whole arm went down to second base,” said Siler. “Something just ripped in there. I couldn’t get the ball back to the pitcher. They ended up pulling me out the game.

“That was the last school ballgame that I played. That was heartbreaking.”

Siler went on to coach baseball for decades, but he never threw batting practice. He caught BP until one of his knees locked up on him. The number of reps made with a fungo bat is nearly incalculable.

From north central Ohio, Siler took his curiosity to North Manchester, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University), where he played football and got the knee injury to remember it by the rest of his days.

More importantly, it was at Manchester that he met Marjorie Thompson. The two wed in 1956 and wound up in her hometown of Elkhart, Ind. 

Dick took a job teaching and coaching at Jimtown High School after graduating Manchester in 1957.

His first coaching assignment was with Jimmies football. He was a coach all the way until the end, including the last 23 years as an assistant at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind.

The Siler family, which grew to include three children (Scott, Laurie and Julie), lived for years in Elkhart. Scott Siler was the Indiana Umpire of the Year in 2018.

Dick became head baseball coach at Elkhart High in 1968 and led that program through 1972. A split of the school sent him into a 25-year run as head baseball coach at Elkhart Memorial High School, where he also was a football assistant for many years.

The 1992 Crimson Chargers were the first Elkhart County baseball team to play in the IHSAA State Finals.

After retiring as coach and social studies teacher at Memorial (he won more than 500 games at the high school level), Siler accepted an invitation from Bethel head coach Sam Riggleman to join the Pilots staff. Margie came along as a scorekeeper. 

She fought a battle with cancer for two decades before dying in 2002. She got to live in a new house in Mishawaka for a short time. Bethel has presented a scholarship in her name and has a plaque in her honor at Patterson Field at Jenkins Stadium.

Dick Siler, who went on to be on the staffs of Mike Hutcheon and Seth Zartman, talked of his wife often. He passed away at his Mishawaka home around 1:45 a.m. Monday, July 20. 

What did he gain most from coaching all those years?

“I enjoy the kids just for who they are — seeing them grow or seeing them change,” said Siler. “I get to see the light go on — he finally gets the idea about timing and using the barrel of the bat to hit.”

Whether it was baseball, football, track, wrestling or basketball (he coached those sports, too), it was about instruction.

“I wanted to teach,” said Siler. “I wanted to tell them this is the best way to do it.

“Kids are hungry to learn if you’ll just teach them.

“Too many people do too much yelling and not teaching. Kids want to get better and they love the game.”

Siler was a founder of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and a member of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. He also belonged to the American Baseball Coaches Association and National High School Baseball Coaches Association. He is also enshrined in sports halls of fame in Ashland County, Ohio, and Elkhart County, Ind.

Siler said he went into coaching baseball with a football mentality.

“A kid would say to me, ‘Coach, we’re trying not to fail,” said Siler. “That was a big learning and turning point for me. I need to teach them better than just yelling.

“For some, it’s just really hard (to fail). It destroys them. They failed Grandpa. They failed Dad. They failed the girlfriend. They failed the coach. It’s a heavy burden.”

Ever inquisitive, Siler asked these questions: How do we enjoy the sport more? and How do we get there?

“You don’t do it through negativity, I’ll tell you that,” said Siler. “My son (Scott) threw a bat once when he was really young and I made him run the hills. ‘But Daddy, I’m so young.’ I probably handled it a different way and I didn’t. That wasn’t right. 

“You make mistakes. You’ve got to live with those, too.”

As a high school baseball coach, Siler was faced with having to cut down his roster.

“Only so many people can make the team,” said Siler. When he took over at Elkhart High, he could not use freshmen and still had about 125 trying out. 

Siler and assistant Randy Miller had to do their evaluations inside a tiny downtown gym.

“We tried to be as fair as we could and didn’t have a whole lot of complaints,” said Siler. “Later, I did.”

Siler said figuring out the top and bottom of the roster is the easy part.

“Some of the kids who come up are coached by people who know baseball better than a lot of others,” said Siler. “The better athletes adjust faster and better than the lesser athletes.”

While Siler could teach technique and improve upon it, he knew that “some talent is just God-given.”

Siler said the difference in a successful high school player and an unsuccessful one came down to attitude.

“I’m not much on all-ness statements,” said Siler. “Sometimes the dog wags the tail and sometimes the tail wags the dog. In my perspective, the program is more important than the individual. Period.

“If you think you are going run the program or effect the program in a negative way, you’re not going to be around. The program is what it’s all about.”

Siler insisted on a pregame prayer.

“They’ll have to fire me,” said Siler. “I’m not changing. That was very important to me.

“I live and die on the idea of ‘family first.’”

Many family members came to visit or called in Dick’s final days.

Dick Siler, who began his coaching career in the 1950’s, was an assistant baseball coach at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., from the 1998 season to 2020. He died July 20. (Bethel University Photo)

Tirotta stays close to home while gearing up for final season with Dayton Flyers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Riley Tirotta is enjoying baseball and family life this summer.

Coming off an abbreviated junior season at the University of Dayton in Ohio because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tirotta spent the first month of quarantine at home in South Bend, Ind., and about a week in Bryan, Texas, where he participated in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational.

A 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty swinger who has started 109 games at Dayton (including 97 at third base the past two seasons with starts at designated hitter, right field, first base and second base as a freshmen in 2018), Tirotta did not get selected in the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Citing unfinished business, he decided not to sign a free agent contact with an MLB organization and he’s planning to come back for his senior season in 2021.

“We had a really good team at Dayton this year,” says Tirotta. “We can do a lot of special things. We have a lot of seniors returning. If I do some things individually and we win some games, I can put myself in an even better position (for professional baseball). 

“We want to finish what we started.”

As a sophomore, Tirotta led Dayton in hits (59), at-bats (227) and stolen bases (18 in 20 attempts) and tied for the team lead in RBIs (41). He enjoyed 16 multi-hit games. 

His freshmen year yielded 27 hits and seven stolen bases while he fielded at a .987 clip.

A past honoree on the dean’s and Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner’s academic lists, Tirotta is on track to earned his Finance degree at Dayton.

At the CSBI, Tirotta played on a team managed by former big league pitcher, Gary, Ind., native and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins and got to face former high school teammate Nate Thomas and college mate Cole Pletka.

Before joining the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park this week, Tirotta spent about 10 days training at Prospect Performance Academy in Aurora, Ohio — near Cleveland and Akron.

Tirotta has worked for more than a year with agent and PPA founder/owner Ben Simon.

“He’s helping me get ready for pro ball and reaching out to scouts,” says Tirotta of Simon. “We’re pretty good friends.”

The CSL plays its games on Monday and Tuesday (11 a.m. doubleheaders). Tirotta spends the rest of the time in South Bend, where he works out at the O’Brien Fitness Center and the 1st Source Bank Performance Center (home of the South Bend Cubs), where Mark Haley is the director.

Following workouts prescribed by trainers, including those at Dayton, Tirotta hits the gym five or six times a week. He goes through strength and conditioning moves and does sprint training.

“I use my speed as well as my power,” says Tirotta. “Just being at athlete on the baseball field is one of my biggest strengths.

“I like to use my athleticism a lot. I’m making plays and using my arm strength. I take extra bases when I can and get stolen bases. I’m hitting a few home runs here and there. I’m pretty well-rounded. I’m not a power-only guy.”

Dayton played just 14 games before the 2020 season was halted. Tirotta started cold and finished hot. He wound up hitting .228 (13-of-57) with one homer, one double, 15 RBIs, nine runs, four stolen bases.

He batted fourth in the Flyers’ final game on March 9 at Dayton swept a three-game series against Northern Kentucky. 

The previous day, Flyers head coach Jayson King inserted Tirotta in the 3-hole and he went 3-for-6 3-for-6 with a home run, double, three runs batted in and three runs scored.

“I was putting good barrel on the ball and going in a good direction,” says Tirotta. “Then COVID happened.

“(Coach King has) done everything for me. He’s gotten me into the Cape and a lot of good leagues. He gets us where we need to be.”

Tirotta hooked up with the CSL when other collegiate summer leagues were canceled or scaled back for 2020. 

He got into 28 games in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019 — 19 with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and nine with the Harwich Mariners. He signed a temporary contract with Y-D and finished with league runner-up Harwich. He supposed to go back to Harwich this summer, but the league canceled its schedule.

He knew he wanted to play summer ball. He was not sure where and then the opportunity came at Grand Park.

“There’s a lot of guys I grew up playing with and against,” says Tirotta, a 2017 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls his 17U and 18U summers after being with the South Bend Silver Hawks for 15U and 16U and the Michiana Scrappers for 11U through 14U. Coached by his father, he started organized baseball at Southeast Little League in South Bend.

Playing summer ball two times a week in Indiana, Riley also gets to be around parents Mike and Stacy Tirotta and younger brother Jordan (a 2020 Marian graduate who plans to study dentistry at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis). 

Sunday nights are for dinners at grandpa Frank Tirotta’s house. It’s not unusual for 40 or more relatives and friends to gather for these weekly feasts or on holidays.

“I have a very close family,” says Tirotta. When pandemic hit that shut down meals with his grandfather — a widower — and visits were kept at a distance. “He was fed up with it and itching to see everybody again.”

Mike Marks has broken bread with the Tirottas. He runs the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and has been helping Riley with his swing since Marian coach Joe Turnock and son Josh Turnock recommended him during Tirotta’s freshmen year with the Knights.

“He’s the reason I am a college hitter,” says Tirotta. “I put in a lot of hours with him.

“He’s definitely part of the journey in my baseball career.”

Baseball gears back up again next week. Right now, Tirotta is getting ready to join family for some camping.

Riley Tirotta, a graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This summer he is playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (University of Dayton Photo)

‘High-adrenaline’ righty Bachman lighting up radar guns

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Bachman’s fastball has registered at 96 mph while pitching for the Local Legends during the College Summer League at Grand Park at Westfield, Ind.

The right-hander hit 97 as a Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) freshman in 2019 and again for the RedHawks during the fall.

Bachman, 20, works out regularly at Fishers (Ind.) Sports Academy — owned by Ed Woolwine, who was Bachman’s head coach with the Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization during his first three high school summers. 

The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Bachman has also been near the top of the pulldown leader board at PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball, run by Greg Vogt at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.

What helps hit the gas?

“As I get stronger, I stay mobile,” says Bachman, a 2018 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers with 19 mound appearances (18 starts) in two seasons at Miami. “It’s important to stay mobile in your upper and lower half.”

To say mobile as his strength increases, Bachman pays attention to his movement patterns, goes through mobility circuits and does yoga.

Besides a two-seam fastball, Bachman throws a slider — more of a “slurve” which breaks two planes of the strike zone — and a vertical-breaking change-up. 

The Grand Park League began last week and Bachman made his second appearance Tuesday, June 23. He expects to throw a bullpen Saturday at Fishers Sports Academy and take the mound in the college league again Tuesday, June 30.

“It’s definitely competitive,” says Bachman of the circuit that’s a joint venture of Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development. “The State of Indiana is oftentimes overlooked.

“There’s no slouch in this league. Everybody is for real.”

Like other pitchers in the league who had their college season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bachman is only pitching for a few innings a time.

“I’m just staying on my routine,” says Bachman. “I’m working on my change-up and bettering my command with my off-speed and fastball.

“There’s no need to worry about velo 11 months prior to next year’s (Major League Baseball First-Year Player) Draft.

Bachman and Miami pitching coach Matthew Passauer have mapped out the hurler’s regimen.

“He’s very flexible about what I want to do,” says Bachman of Passauer. “We work together and bounce ideas of each other and develop a plan.”

As a RedHawks freshman for head coach Danny Hayden, Bachman was an all-Mid-American Conference first-teamer. He went 7-1 with a 3.93 earned run average. He struck out 75 batters in 75 2/3 innings and opponents hit .229 against him. 

With that many innings, he was shut down for the summer collegiate season.

In 2020, the righty started four times and was 1-2 with a 3.42 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings.

“I’m usually a high-adrenaline guy, which is a little unusual for a starter,” says Bachman. “It’s about beating the hitter every time no matter what the situation.”

That’s just the way Bachman is wired. His parents — Kevin Bachman and Suzanne Bachman — divorced when Sam was young and he pushed himself athletically and academically.

“I’m very competitive and driven for sure,” says Bachman. “I always have a chip on my shoulder. I’m never satisfied. Workhorse mentality.”

Bachman’s favorite baseball player is Pete Rose.

“My dad was always a fan,” says Sam, who was born 13 years after Rose retired with 4,256 career hits. “I like his passion and how he played so hard. It reminds me of myself.

“No matter the situation, I’m giving it my all.”

Bachman, who turns 21 on Sept. 30, is both a Premedical Studies co-major and Microbiology major. He plans to ride baseball as far as it will take him then comes medical school.

At HSE — playing for then-Royals head coach Scott Henson — Bachman earned two baseball letters and struck out 100 of 307 batters faced over 21 games.

Bachman appreciates Woolwine for his coaching approach.

“He had a very relaxed mood to him,” says Bachman. “He was not super intense or very hands-on. He let me figure out baseball himself.

“There’s not one way to play. It allowed me to develop into the player I am today.”

When Bachman became more serious about the game, he played travel ball for the Indiana Nitro. The summer before college he played for Ohio’s Midland Redskins, coached by Dave Evans

Tyler Bosma, a teammate with the Prospects and Redskins, also wound up being a starting pitcher at Miami. The left-hander is from Holland, Mich.

Gabe Bachman, Sam’s brother, is about to turn 18. He is planning to attend Purdue University.

Sam Bachman, a graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., who has pitched two seasons at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is playing for the Local Legends in the 2000 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (Miami University Photo)

New Castle’s Besecker take non-traditional course to D-I’s VMI

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not your typical story of college baseball recruitment and commitment.

Nic Besecker, a senior at New Castle (Ind.) High School, played travel baseball just a few times — his 12U summer with a team called the Revolution and as a fill-in at 16 with 17U Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).

A self-described “rec league” player most of his diamond life, Besecker has in the New Castle Babe Ruth League and toed the rubber of the all-star team in last summer’s Indiana state tournament in Crown Point. That team was coached by Bret Mann, who had also coached New Castle’s entry in the 2012 Little League World Series.

Besecker, a right-handed pitcher, had his velocity clocked just three times during his prep days. He maxed out at 78 mph at an Earlham College camp as a freshman.

He got into the weight room and took a few lessons from pitching coach Jay Lehr and his velo went up.

“He’s been a big part of it,” says Besecker of Lehr, who is based in central Indiana. “We haven’t gotten to him enough. I’ve had only five true lessons with him, but he taught me something every time. He me how to use my lower half and get into my legs.”

Following his junior year at New Castle, he attended a Prep Baseball Report showcase and went as high as 85. In the early part of 2020, he was at another PBR event and got up to 89.

Besecker isn’t the biggest kid on the field either. Rosters list him at 5-11 and 155 pounds. He says he might be closer to 5-9 and 150.

He gets the most out of what he got. That’s why Besecker has been enamored with major league pitcher Tim Lincecum and what he did with his small frame.

“He’s been my idol since I’ve been little,” says Besecker. “What made me fall in love with him is that when he was good, he was the best pitcher in the world. He was so different from everyone else.”

Besecker has prided himself in exceeding expectations.

“Who’s this little squirt?” says Besecker imitating batters facing him for the first time. Then comes the first delivery.

Usually pretty swift.

But it’s not just about the heat.

“I’ve always prided myself in being a pitcher,” says Besecker. “I always knew how to locate.

“I wasn’t just a hurler.”

Besecker’s passion impresses first-year New Castle head coach Brad Pearson, who didn’t get to see the pitcher perform in a senior season that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nic is one of those kids who seems to be all about baseball,” says Pearson. “He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He just loves the sport.”

Pearson also appreciates Besecker’s mound approach.

“He’s not worried about lightning up the radar gun,” says Pearson. “He just wants to get outs.

“That’s pretty refreshing for a high school kid.”

Besecker signed his National Letter of Intent with NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute on May 11.

Funny thing is when Keydets head coach Jonathan Hadra and pitching coach Sam Roberts welcome their new recruit to the Lexington, Va., campus it will represent a few firsts.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it will be the first time for Besecker and his coaches will seeing each other in-person when the player makes his first appearance in Virginia.

“I had options,” says ays Besecker, who will step into a program that has sent right-handers Zak Kent, Josh Winder and Matt Eagle into pro baseball in recent seasons. “Coach Hadra and Coach Roberts has something special going on over there.”

Besecker says he does not owe four years of military service after he graduates from VMI.

“I’m going there to play baseball and etch out some kind of career in baseball,” says Besecker. “That’s been my dream.”

Like all first-year VMI students, Besecker will start on the “Rat Line.” He is hopefully that this basic training program that usually lasts from August through January will help him pack on 20 to 30 pounds.

“I would not get that anywhere else,” says Besecker. “I’ve always been a guy to accept that kind of challenge.”

The majority of new cadets begin around Aug. 15, but they have had summer conditioning programs in the past. If those are available and his coaches want him to attend, Besecker might leave for VMI early.

It’s not yet certain when or if New Castle will have a graduation ceremony.

VMI is a member of the Southern Conference. The Keydets went to Virginia and North Carolina before the 2020 season was halted and was to play home-and-home series with Virginia Tech.

The SoCon tournament was to be staged at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. The park has its own “Green Monster.” The Greenville Drive are Low Class-A affiliates of the Boston Red Sox.

Besecker played junior varsity baseball as a New Castle freshman and enjoyed his best varsity campaign as a Trojans sophomore.

“I played against guys who were able to hit the ball regardless of velocity,” says Besecker. “You have to be creative (with breaking pitches).”

In two varsity seasons, Besecker went 8-6 with a 2.96 earned run average. He struck out 80 in 71 innings.

The oldest of Kevin and Lauren Besecker’s two sons, Nic was born in Centerville, Ohio and was raised in Greenville, Ohio.

“I’ve been in a small town my whole life,” says Besecker.

When he was 9, his father brought the family to New Castle. That’s where he was a mechanic/crew chief for the racing Armstrong family, including Dakoda and Caleb, and Nic could get into the Focus program for gifted kids.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” says Nic of the move. “It was a perfect storm.”

He went to be inducted into the National Honor Society and participate in speech and debate while posting a 3.6 grade-point average (on a 4.0) scale at New Castle High.

Nic has logged around 200 service hours at New Castle Babe Ruth’s Denny Bolden Field and has been an assistant coach for teams featuring his little brother Drake (the 13-year-old left-hander is already as tall as big brother and finishing seventh grade).

Lauren Besecker holds a sports marketing degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and has what Nic calls a “love/hate relationship” with the Cincinnati Reds. She is waiting management to make the moves to again make the team make a consistent contender.

Before focusing on baseball his senior year, Besecker played football from fourth grade through junior year. The former quarterback was encouraged by Jaymen Nicholson, who coached in fifth and sixth grade and was part of the highs school staff.

“He’s always believed in me,” says Besecker. “Guys like him and Bret Mann have told me, ‘If you want to do it, you can do it.’ They bought in

“That’s catapulted me as far as I’ve gotten so far.”

BRETMANNNICBESECKERBRADPEARSON

New Castle (Ind.) High School senior Nic Besecker (center) celebrates his signing to play NCAA Division I baseball at Virginia Military Institute. He is flanked by Babe Ruth coach Bret Mann (left) and high school head coach Brad Pearson. (New Castle High School Photo)

 

Former Pendleton Heights catcher Etchison scouting for Cleveland Indians

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Etchison used to play baseball for a coach who was invested in his players as people as ballplayers.

Now Etchison evaluates diamond talent with an eye for more than the obvious skills.

Etchison was a catcher for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, graduating in 2007.

“He is one of he best human beings of all-time,” says Etchison of Stoudt. “He was close with his players and his players were close with each other. Everyone who played for him just loves him.

“He was so much more than a baseball coach. He was invested in you. He genuinely cares about people.”

Etchison, 31, makes it a point to look Stoudt up whether it’s in Indiana or Florida.

In his third year as an area scout for the Cleveland Indians, Etchison greatly values character.

“The Indians very progressive in how they go about scouting,” says Etchison. “We collect information and get to know a player. Every player has strengths and weaknesses.

“We emphasize make-up as an organization. The make-up is just so huge.”

Etchison, who played at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., and the University of Maryland after his Pendleton Heights days (which included back-to-back Hoosier Heritage Conference championships in 2006 and 2007 and a senior season in which he hit .392 with five homer runs, seven doubles and 20 runs batted in and a spot on the 2007 IHSBCA North/South All-Star team; former Arabians head coach Travis Keesling assisted Stoudt; The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh), wants to know a player’s level of perseverance and his ability to overcome challenges and perform under pressure.

His job is to identify someone who will impact the game at the big league level.

As an area scout living in Dexter, Mich., Etchison is responsible for a territory which includes Indiana and Michigan plus Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, northern Kentucky, South Dakota, western Ohio and Wisconsin.

He goes to games and tournaments in the spring and summer and scout days in the fall featuring players from these territories or — especially in this time of no live baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic — analyzes video to do player assessments and projections.

“I don’t know what we would have done without Synergy (Sports Technology) video,” says Etchison. “We can see mechanical things on tape — things that weren’t possible 10 years ago — and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

That’s one piece of the scouting puzzle.

“We’ll never not value going to the ballpark,” says Etchison. “There are a lot of things you can’t see on tape.”

Among those are pregame routines and what the player does during warm-ups or batting practice and how he interacts with his coaches and teammates. Body language won’t always show up on a video that is cut up by pitch and swing.

It is said that there are five tools in baseball (hitting for average, hitting for power, base running, throwing and fielding).

“Old school scouting relies so heavily on tools,” says Etchison. “In the majors, a lot of players have one or two.

“The hit tool, that’s the one that matters (for non-pitchers).”

Etchison hears people say that an outfielder can run like a deer and has a cannon for an arm.

But can he effectively swing the bat? Those defensive tools might show up once or twice a week.

“The bat shows up four times every game,” says Etchison. “All (big league) outfielders are offensive positions.”

Etchison, who also played travel baseball with the Indiana Bulls prior to college, redshirted his first season at Ball State (2008) and apparel in 20 games for Greg Beals-coached Mid-American Conference West Division champions in 2009.

Knowing that he would see limited playing time in his third year, Etchison made the choice to transfer to Chipola and joined the that program just weeks before the start of the 2010 season.

“The first time I really took a chance on myself was going down there,” says Etchison. “It was a sink-or-swim situation.”

He could either make it or go back to Indiana and leave his baseball career behind.

Playing for Jeff Johnson on a team loaded with future pro players, Etchison became part of the Chipola Indians brotherhood.

“It’s one of the top junior college programs in the country,” says Etchison. “(Johnson) had a very similar impact on his players as Coach Stoudt. He was a big personality, a great baseball coach and a great mentor.

“(Chipola) opened doors for me.”

Johnson had a relationship with then-Maryland head coach Erik Bakich and it helped Etchison land with the Terrapins as part of Bakich’s first recruiting class. He played in 28 games (25 as a starter) in 2011 and 31 (20 as a starter) in 2012. He threw out 14-of-25 runners attempting to steal during his senior season which opened with a dislocated finger that caused him to miss two weeks. He had already suffered a broken hand and a torn meniscus while at the Big Ten school.

Etchison was a Maryland team captain as a senior, helping the Terps win 32 games.

Meanwhile, Bakich encouraged Etchison to consider coaching when his playing days were over. He graduated from Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business in December 2012.

“He thought I’d be good at it,” says Etchison. “I had a few real world job opportunities in the finance industry. My parents (Jeff and Shelly Etchison) encouraged me to get into (coaching). They’ve always wanted me to go out and take chances.”

When Bakich became head coach at the University of Michigan he brought Etchison on in the volunteer role, one he stayed in for five seasons (2013-17) plus part of the fall before going into scouting.

“I fell in love with coaching,” says Etchison. “I really loved being around baseball everyday.”

There was continuity in the Wolverines program and chances to earn money by working camps.

“I was in a great spot,” says Etchison, who briefly got the chance to go on the road and recruit when Sean Kenny left Michigan for the University of Georgia. “Financially, I was able to survive.”

He also got to spend time around a mentor in Bakich.

“He is one of my closest friends,” says Etchison, who got married last summer with Bakich performing the wedding ceremony.

Aaron became the stepfather to two boys — Reid (now 10 and in the fourth grade) and Grant (now 7 and in the first grade). Emily Etchison, who is from Saline, Mich., is due to bring a baby girl into the family at the end of July.

Etchison explains why he became a scout for the Cleveland Indians.

“The organization was extremely impressive,” says Etchison. “It was a great opportunity for growth.”

Another significant person in Etchison’s baseball life is fellow Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley, who is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the Chicago White Sox.

Growing up, Etchison was a regular at Shirley’s training facility.

“Like so many players who grew up in the area and are proud to be ‘Barn Guys,’ I would be remiss if I did not give credit to him for being a baseball mentor and friend for over 20 years,” says Etchison.

AARONETCHISON

Aaron Etchison, a Pendleton (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball at Ball State University, Chipola College and the University of Maryland and coached at the University of Michigan, is an area scout for the Cleveland Indians.

 

Indiana’s Sagerman gets competitive fix in operations, pitch development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Denton Sagerman no longer stares down batters or tries to get the baseball past them with his pitches.

But he still has a competitive spirit and he uses it in his roles as Director of Operations/Pitching Development for Indiana University baseball.

“I love competing,” says Sagerman, who started working in Bloomington in August 2018. .”It’s very hard to replicate that once you’re done playing.”

As a right-handed pitcher at the University of Dayton, Sagerman had the ball and could dictate to his opponent.

Now he finds a competitive outlet in the weight room, where he can measure his progress, and in his job.

“In my professional development, I compete,” says Sagerman, 27. “I read about what everybody else is doing. I try to replicate that here and be the best at what I do in the country.

“That’s the goal that motivates me every single day.”

Sagerman’s favorite part of playing was development.

“What are the tools I can use to get better?,” says Sagerman. “I could measure where I was at and show quantitatively where I was going.

“I always wanted to be in a baseball development role.”

What does Sagerman do as a baseball operations man?

“All of the administrative tasks,” says Sagerman. “Everything outside coaching and recruiting.”

He is there to support head coach Jeff Mercer, associate head coach/pitching Justin Parker, assistant coach/recruiting director Dan Held, volunteer assistant Derek Simmons, director of player development Scott Rolen and the rest of the Hoosiers.

Sagerman is responsible for budgeting, scheduling, travel coordination, video breakdown and managing the role of analytics within the program; amongst other general program operations.

Some tools at his disposal include TrackMan, Rapsodo Pitching, HitTrax and WIN Reality (virtual reality).

There plenty of challenges. One example is with budgeting.

“It’s hard knowing what the landscape is going to look like one, two, three years out and the costs that can add up and the things that are unforeseen,” says Sagerman. “There are minute details and you make sure all of those are accounted for in your planning process.”

When IU goes on the road, Sagerman works with a travel agent and sets up a bus company. The driver is given a full itinerary. Staying at the team hotel, the driver is available whenever team members need the bus. When possible, drivers who are familiar with the Hoosiers are requested.

Sagerman assists Parker with pitch design.

“I enjoy working with all the different tools and making the data applicable to players and coaches,” says Sagerman. “As each class comes in they know more about technology. The coaches do a good job of explaining what the data means.

“It’s not just overwhelming them with an Excel sheet of data.”

IU’s Bart Kaufman Field is equipped with a TrackMan video system which allows Sagerman to present postgame reports to pitchers on every single pitch. They can learn many things about the quality of those pitches, including location and effectiveness, and apply that in the future.

“They can see that their slider in the game was 1 mph slower with an inch less horizontal break than they’ve seen in practice or other games,” says Sagerman.

Another way to make pitches better is by finding comparable data from professional pitchers.

On the hitting side, a heat map of the strike zone can be created to show exit velocity and launch angle and a profile is built.

Sagerman says since this information is available to the opponent, they can use it to attack a hitter’s weaknesses.

“As a hitter, I need to train myself to not swing or hit that pitch better,” says Sagerman.

A virtual reality system helps hitters with pitch recognition. They see how quickly they can pick up pitch type and location.

“We do a good job of using utilizing all the different pieces of technology to paint a picture for that specific athlete,” says Sagerman. “I didn’t access to any of this stuff in college. The boom of tech/analytics has come about in the last two or three years.

“It would have helped my career immensely.”

Sagerman has that there is a misconception that with technology comes an infinite outcome. It must be applied correctly to help the user.

Also, limited resources can bring about results. Sagerman was a coach and administrator with the Dayton Classics travel baseball organization. The Classics used a radar gun. Launch angle was measured with strings in the batting cage.

Before coming to IU, Sagerman was Director of Baseball Operations at Wright State University, under head coach Mercer, while focusing on analytics and its use in player development. Before that the graduate of Olmsted Falls (Ohio) High School was employed as an aerospace engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base specializing in Computational Fluid Dynamics as well as a varsity coach at Centerville (Ohio) High School.

Sagerman has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Dayton and a master’s in Sport and Athletic Administration from Gonzaga University.

“My education taught me problem-solving and organizational skills,” says Sagerman. “The engineering, I use on analytics and the pitching side.”

A typical day for Sagerman when the Hoosiers are at home begins with him arriving at the stadium around 7 a.m. for a workout. He then splits his time between operations and pitching tasks.

He answers general emails and communicates with the opposing director of operations.

Sagerman works with IU’s game management staff and he also makes sure the team has the day’s schedule and knows which uniforms to wear. He sees that the pregame meal is set up. He assists the staff in preparing lineup cards.

During the game, he keeps his own scorecard and makes notes. He is also there to make sure everything goes smoothly and is there to get anything needed by the coaches. Monitoring the weather is also part of his job.

After the game, Sagerman runs pitching and hitting reports and gets those to the coaching staff. He also makes sure the team has the schedule for the next day.

“They’re definitely some long days for sure,” says Sagerman.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiana played its last game of the 2020 season March 11 (the Hoosiers finished 9-6).

During quarantine time, Sagerman has been working on long-term projects.

“I’m looking for the most efficient processes and to be more organized, efficient and effective,” says Sagerman. “I’m also doing some prep for next year like ordering equipment.”

DENTONSAGERMAN

Denton Sagerman is the Director of Operations/Pitching Development for Indiana University baseball. (Indiana University Photo)

 

Orthopedic surgeon Frantz covers baseball topics

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dr. Travis Frantz played baseball at Fremont (Ind.) High School and Huntington (Ind.) University.

Now an Ohio State University orthopedic surgeon based in Columbus, Ohio, who has worked with New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians doctors, Frantz was back near his college town Jan. 19 for the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

Frantz spoke on several topics, including strength and conditioning, mechanics, simple physics, risky behaviors, baseball specialization and the injury epidemic.

“This is pretty new stuff,” says Frantz, who shared his knowledge and findings from studies conducted by Major League Baseball and others. “This is the best of what we know at the moment for how to keep guys healthy.

“In order to stay healthy you need that whole 180-degree arc of shoulder motion (internal or external rotation). Guys who are short on that we know, particularly in the shoulder, have 2.5 to 3 times more likely risk of suffering an injury when they start to lose that flexibility and that range of motion.

“When there’s rotator cuff weakness, that’s another risk factor for shoulder injury. A shoulder surgery for a pitcher is the kiss of death.

“Elbows we’re really good at. We now have a 97 percent return to the same level with Tommy John surgery. Rotator cuff surgery is 40 or 50 percent. It’s not great.”

When it comes to strengthening the rotator cuff, Frantz points to the Baseball Pitchers and Thowers Ten Exercise Program. It’s what former big league pitcher Jarrod Parker used for injury rehabilitation and prevention (rehab and pre-hab).

Frantz, Parker and athletic trainer Dru Scott have combined forces for Arm Care Camp.

“The whole shoulder adapts when your throw and you’re overhead that much,” says Frantz. “Even the actual bone itself remodels. It does what we call retrovert, meaning it tilts back a little bit.

“The late cocking is a good thing. You get a lot generated from that. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a normal adaptation for high-level throwers over time.”

Frantz notes that elbow injuries commonly occur alongside hip and core injuries. There is an exponential increase in MLB oblique injuries in the past seven years.

Those with hip injuries also have more elbow injuries.

Throwing engages the kinetic chain — movement at one joint affects movement in another.

Frantz says body regions must be conditioned properly. He adds that there is no perfect training system.

“Every therapist, strength and conditioning coach and ‘expert’ will have their opinion,” says Frantz.

Keys to strength and conditioning include doing movements that appropriate for age/level

Well-balanced i.e.. kinetic chain and with an appropriate dosage.

Doctors have found that complete rest may be bad, too. It used to be that heart attack patients were put on weeks of strict bed rest.

“We now know that is one of the worst things we could have done,” says Frantz. “We encourage them to get up and move and lightly stress the heart a little bit.

“A lot of the strength and conditioning coaches now are buying into that philosophy. Taking three days off, just sitting there and not doing anything at all is probably worse than doing something lightly for a couple of days.”

It’s active recovery to keep things moving and loose.

Frantz says there are now many strength and conditioning programs founded in “real” science.

“It has good philosophies,” says Frantz. “It makes sense in what you’re doing and is well-rounded.

“Be careful of the programs that have marketed upon just one success story. Or it’s one pro athlete who is a freak and would have had success with anything he did. They just happen to have his or her name on this program or institution.”

In addressing mechanics, Frantz says the biggest strides made in biomechanics and pitching mechanics in general occur in youth baseball between ages 9-13.

“Interestingly, as your mechanics improve the force that’s put on your elbow joint increases,” says Frantz. “Everywhere else in the body your risk goes down.”

Frantz says that once proper mechanics are developed, there is no difference in mechanics of those with elbow ligament tears and those without.

Kinetic factors associated with pitching injury include early trunk rotation (loss of hip and shoulder separation vs. maintained hip and shoulder separation), altered knee flexion and increased elbow flexion at ball release leads to increased elbow torque.

Looking at simple physics, Frantz says there are 64 Newton meters of force generated at the elbow with each pitch (bone and muscular structures see 32 Nm and the ulnar collateral ligament sees the other 32 Nm).

“Unfortunately what we’ve shown in lab studies looking at elbows is that (the UCL) fails at 33 to 36 units of that force,” says Frantz. “Essentially every time you throw, you’re within a few percentage points of maximum strength before that’s going to break.

“That’s why you’re seeing the amount of injuries you’re seeing.”

The greatest cause/risk factor for injury is increased velocity. Other things that make for a bigger force are increased body weight and height.

MLB revealed that the percentage of pitches 95 mph or above was 4.82 in 2008 and 9.14 in 2015. Where will it be in 2020?

In this era of high strikeout totals, research shows that 18.8 percent of pitches at or above 95 mph resulted in a swinging strike with 8.2 percent for deliveries less than 95 mph.

“Velocity works,” says Frantz. “It’s not going anywhere.”

Off-speed pitch velocity has also increased.

Frantz issues a warning for high injury risk.

“Be aware of the 14- to 18-year-old who hits a growth spurt, gains 25 pounds and suddenly throws 10 mph harder,” says Frantz.

Risky behaviors include pitching with tiredness (7.8 times more likely for injury), pitching with pain (7.5 times more likely for injury), catching when not pitching (2.8 times more likely for injury), pitching on consecutive days (2.5 times more likely for injury) and playing on multiple teams at the same time (1.9 times more likely for injury).

“There’s a difference between having a little bit of fatigue and having true pain when you’re throwing,” says Frantz. “It’s difficult to isolate, particularly in younger kids.

“As guys play a lot they can get a feel for it.”

Frantz says every player’s description of pain and what they can handle is different and coaches need to know their athletes well enough to understand that.

Studies show that breaking balls have not been found to be a direct contributor to arm injury while velocity does contribute.

In players undergoing Tommy John surgery, there is no difference in the amount of curveballs/sliders thrown compared to those who stayed healthy.

Breaking balls have been showed to increase arm pain by as much as 86 percent and arm pain increases injury rates.

Pitch counts have been widely instituted at various levels since 2004.

Frantz says there is no magic number.

Pitch counts do force players, parents and coaches to stop pitching when the arm pain and tiredness are likely to be ignored.

One website resource for guidelines sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball is PitchSmart.org.

Frantz says it is well-documented that throwers in warm weather regions, where there is more actively, the incidence of injury is higher than those in cold weather places.

In looking at specialization, Frantz quoted a study by the New York Yankees doctor of youth baseball in New York state.

The average age to begin dropping sports to focus on another is 8.1 years old.

In interviewing the youth players, he learned that 84 percent wished they played more sports, 47 percent thought about quitting last season and 33 percent were told by baseball coach to stop playing other sports.

In addition, 74 percent reported an injury, 55 percent stated it wasn’t fun to play while they were hurting, 47 percent were told by a parent or coach to keep playing despite pain, 25 percent had hired personal trainers and 5 percent of parents said they would suspend grade/redshirt to gain a competitive advantage.

What’s more, players with elite coaching had an injury rate of 38 percent. The rate dropped to 7.1 percent to those without elite coaching.

Frantz says an argument for not specializing comes from current MLB players.

They have generally been found to have played more sports than current high school players and “specialized” two years later (age 14 vs. 12 now) than current high school players.

Forty percent of big leaguers say specializing at any time did not help them reach professional baseball.

What does science say on the subject?

Frantz notes there is clear evidence of improved physical, emotional and learning development when playing multiple sports.

There is no advantage in specialization before 12 years of age and a clear increase in injuries.

While there have been very little studies done on the youth injuries, studies have revealed that baseball is a relatively safe sport at the highest level. MLB has 3.6 injuries per athlete-exposures compared to 21.4 for the NBA.

Position players have greater incidence of injury and most injuries involve ligaments and tendons.

During a three-month high school season, most injuries occur during the first month.

Frantz says that many claims about weighted balls are not based upon sound science.

Weighted balls have been shown to increase velocity. But that’s with 4- to 6-ounce balls used over the 10-week period by high school and college athletes.

Frantz says there are not current protocols on how weighted balls help as warm-up or recovery tools. It’s a coaching/pitching preference.

There is no evidence weighted balls hurt or harm mechanics.

Nor has there been any study done to prove they reduce injury.

Frantz says there are plenty of myths surrounding long toss.

He has found that is does not increase arm strength.

Throwers lose about 5 percent of arm strength over the course of the season and 11-18 percent from the start to the end of the game.

Long toss may help endurance and arm speed, but does not promote proper pitching mechanics.

Motion analysis has shown significant differences and that increases when long toss goes beyond 180 feet.

There’s an even higher stress on the arm with max effort crow hop long toss.

Yes, long toss is important, but not a requirement. Many pro players never throw more than 120 feet.

It’s a balancing act between increasing endurance and arm speed vs. cumulative fatigue.

Frantz adds that long toss is helpful, but must be used in combination with downtime, good arm care and quality strength and conditioning.

“There is not one perfect long toss program,” says Frantz.

DRTRAVISFRANTZ

Dr. Travis Frantz, an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Ohio, covered many baseball topics at the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics. Frantz played at Fremont (Ind.) High School and Huntington (Ind.) University. (Steve Krah Photo)