Notre Dame has one of the oldest lineups in NCAA Division I college baseball. After a second-straight regional championship, the Link Jarrett-coached Fighting Irish (40-15) beat No. 1-ranked and overall top seed Tennessee 2-1 in the three-game super regional held in Knoxville, Tenn. (8-6 win June 10, 12-4 loss June 11, 7-3 win June 12) to earn a berth in the 2022 College World Series. The event runs June 16-27 in Omaha, Neb. The Notre Dame starting lineup in the super regional clincher featured righty-swinging left fielder Ryan Cole (22), switch-hitting second baseman Jared Miller (23), righty-swinging first baseman Carter Putz (22), designated hitter Jack Zyska (22), righty-swinging catcher David LaManna (23), third baseman Jack Brannigan (21), righty-swinging shortstop Zack Prajzner (22), righty-swinging right fielder Brooks Coetze (22), switch-hitting center fielder Spencer Myers (23) and right-handed pitcher Liam Simon (21). Cole, Miller, LaManna and Myers are all graduate students. Putz, Prajzner and Coetze are seniors. Brannigan and Simon are juniors. Ace John Michael Bertrand (24) started Game 2 against Tennessee. Usual No. 2 weekend starter Austin Temple (22) took the ball for Game 1 to keep Bertrand on his usual rest. Lefty-hander Bertrand and righty Temple are both graduate students. On Wednesday, Bertrand, Brannigan and ND left-hander Jack Findlayreceived All-American honors — Bertrand second team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Branigan third team by Perfect Game and Findlay second team by PG. The last time Notre Dame went to Omaha was 2002 when the Irish went 2-2 and were eliminated by semifinalist Stanford in a year when Texas won the national championship. Bertrand, who was born in 1998, was not yet 4. Texas (47-20) is Notre Dame’s opponent in CWS Game 2 of Bracket 1 at 7 p.m. Friday, June 17. The Longhorns won the Greenville Super Regional with a Game 3 starting combination against host East Carolina featuring four redshirt seniors, two redshirt juniors, three redshirt sophomores and one sophomore. Texas A&M (42-18) plays Oklahoma (42-22) in Game 1 of Bracket 1 at 2 p.m. Friday. In Bracket 2 on Saturday, June 18, it’s Stanford (47-16) vs. Arkansas (43-19) at 2 and Ole Miss (37-22) vs. Auburn (42-20) at 7. The double-elimination phase goes through June 23 with the best-of-three finals June 25-27. Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate Michael Early is the Texas A&M hitting coach. Jarrett is in his second season leading Notre Dame. He began establishing his system in the fall of 2019. He has continued to share his ideas about building complete hitters and has talked about what it means to be a coach. College World Series games will air and be streamed by ESPN.
Collin Bice grew up playing at Auburn (Ind.) Little League then DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind. This week, Bice was named head baseball coach at his alma mater after two years as a Barons assistant. His coaching in the spring at the high school makes Bice familiar with the returnees and his coaching of 14U all-stars in the summer has allowed him to get to know the incoming freshmen. The 25-year-old is well aware of the winning tradition at DeKalb, having played for Chris Rhodes for his first three prep seasons and Tim Murdock as a senior and from years of taking lessons from Ken Jones. Bice was a freshmen when he began coaching at the Little League and led many teams with friend Bruce Bell. “DeKalb baseball has always been an above-average baseball team,” says Bice, who was made school-board official Dec. 21. “We’re not looking to recreate the wheel. We’re asking what is it going to take to take us to the next level? “I like to consider myself a high-energy guy. I’m going to be flying around with (the players). I plan to increase the tempo and intensity of practice. I hate standing around. “Playing for Coach Rhodes really sparked my passion for the game. I had a great four seasons myself as a Baron. That’s what I want to recreate. I want to impact the lives of 15- to 18-year-olds and give them a great experience.” Bice, a former catcher, likes the way Rhodes and Murdock broke practices into individual groups and will continue to do that. “Each practice we’ll work on what we need to enhance based on the last game or week,” says Bice. “We want to get better each and every day.” A 2015 DeKalb graduate, Bice played one season for Bob Koopmann at Rockford (Ill.) University and three at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., for Rick Espeset. He credits the Spartans bench boss for imparting plenty of baseball knowledge. A coach of a team every summer except 2018 when he gave lessons as an intern at the Strike Zone in Omaha, Neb., during the summer of 2018, Bice graduated from Manchester in 2019 with a degree in Business Management with a minor in Coaching. While his DeKalb coaching staff is not completed, Bice plans to have former University of Saint Francis left-handed pitcher Kyle DeKoninck return and will likely have father and DeKalb paraprofessional Randy Bice helping him this spring. DeKalb (enrollment around 1,120) is a member of the Northeast Eight Conference (with Bellmont, Columbia City, East Noble, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell). In recent season, NE8 game were played as home-and-home series at Tuesdays and Thursdays. In the 2021, the Barons were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Carroll, East Noble, Fort Wayne Northrop and Fort Wayne Snider. DeKalb has won 19 sectional titles — the last in 2002. A state championship was earned by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Jones in 1980. DeKalb plays home games on-campus at Baron Field. The grass at the facility was replaced last year. Feeding high school program is Auburn Little League (T-ball to age 12) at Rieke Park and the Junior League (ages 13-15). “I’ve always coached that Junior League level,” says Bice. “That’s important to me.” The past two DeKalb graduating classes have produced college baseball players — Tyler Stahl (Indiana Tech) and Easton Rhodes (Trine University) graduated in 2020 and Aric Ehmke (Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill.), Steele Jackson (Pasco-Hernando State College in New Port Richey, Fla.) and Nolan Nack (Trine) earned diplomas in 2021. There have been no signings or commitments from current Barons, but Bice expects that to change. “Our senior class will probably have a few,” says Bice. “The junior class is pretty strong.” Collin’s mother is Dusti Bice, who played on DeKalb’s first softball team as a senior in 1986. His younger brother — Hayden Bice — is a Southern Illinois University Architecture major. Collin Bice is agent aspirant in the office of State Farm Insurance agent Morgan Hefty, located in Auburn. Bice roots for the Cleveland Guardians (formerly Indians).
When Bryan Bullington left Ball State University after his junior year as the No. 1 overall selection in the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates he had visions of anchoring a big league starting pitching rotation for a decade or more. It didn’t go quite like that, but the 6-foot-5 right-hander who had been Indiana Mr. Baseball at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School in 1999 did pitch as a professional until age 34 and returned to the game two years later as a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers – a position he has held for the past five years. “I’m super proud, happy and thankful that I got to play as long as a I did,” says Bullington, who made his MLB debut with Pittsburgh in 2005, pitched in 26 big league games (16 in relief) with the Pirates, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals, made several minor league stops and hurled four full seasons and part of a fifth in Japan. Starting with an 11-0 ledger, he tossed the first four with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp (38-31 from 2011-14) and the beginning of 2015 with the Orix Buffaloes. “During my playing career I did a little bit of everything and had different experiences.” Bullington had labrum surgery in 2005 and missed the 2006 season. When did not make the big club out of Royals spring training in 2010, (Kansas City drafted him in the 37th round out of high school but he opted for college) Bullington was presented with his first invitation to play in the Far East. He chose to stay in the U.S. and went to Triple-A Omaha and got into 13 contests that season with Kansas City. “We had just had twins in the offseason (with a toddler already in the house),” says Bullington, who is married to Lauren. “It felt a little overwhelming.” Now married 17 years, Bryan and Lauren Bullington reside in the Chicago suburbs with daughter Bella (15 and a high school freshman) and sons Jack and Matthew (both 12 and sixth graders). In 2011, the interest and opportunity to go to Japan was still there. Bryan did his research then headed to the Land of the Rising Sun – where he enjoyed the baseball and was able to share cultural experiences with his family. “I loved Hiroshima,” says Bullington. “I had two great interpreters. “I spoke ‘survival Japanese.’” He could order a meal or catch a cab. Bullington was away from pro baseball in 2016 then got a chance to join the Brewers scouting staff in 2017. “It’s been very educational,” says Bullington, 41. “The game has changed a ton in five years I’ve been doing it. “(Research and development) and analytics are a big part of the game. I learn something new every year.” By examining the data, a pitcher can add a pitch to his repertoire, tweak an existing one or adjust its frequency or efficiency. “We used to be hesitant to mess or tweak with what a guy did later in their career,” says Bullington. “You can put data in front of them and they can see there might be an avenue for growth or improvement.” While he has helped out in spring training and at fall instructional camp and has helped former Ball State assistant Matt Husted at Wheaton (Ill.) College, Bullington’s role with the Brewers is not as a coach – he does that with his sons – he’s an evaluator. The past thee years scouting duties have been combined with a mix of amateur and pro assignments. “My experience in Japan lets me get some international looks as well,” says Bullington, who was traveling over there a time or two each year pre-COVID-19 pandemic. After the 2021 MLB, Minor League Baseball and amateur seasons, he did go the instructional league and the Arizona Fall League — both in the Phoenix area. Right now, Bullington is assessing minor league and MLB free agents and preparing for the Rule 5 Draft, which is slated Dec. 9 – the last day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla. By rule, players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on their new team’s big league roster all season in 2022, otherwise they must go through waivers and be offered back to their original team. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary O’Neal, Bullington went 15-0 as a Madison Consolidated senior, pitching a one-hitter in the 1999 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game. In three seasons at Ball State, he earned numerous All-American honors and was Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in 2000 and MAC Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and 2002. He set school records of career wins (29), strikeouts (357), single-season strikeouts (139 in 2002), fewest walks per nine innings (1.55 in 2002) and career hit batters (44). Bullington was with the Cardinals during Rich Maloney’s first stint as head coach. “I talk to him every couple of months,” says Bullington of Maloney. “He’s been great mentor for me and a coach.” Taking online classes in the offseason, Bullington completed his degree in Business Administration and Management in 2010. He was inducted into the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014 and MAC Hall of Fame in 2020.
All the hats that Sherard Clinkscales has donned thus far — many of the baseball variety — have helped him to his current role as athletic director at Indiana State University. The former baseball and basketball player at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis and Purdue University went on to play and scout in professional baseball and coach in the college ranks before going into athletic administration. He was hired by then-ISU president Dr. Daniel Bradley to lead the Sycamores in February 2016 and now serves for current president Deborah J. Curtis. Missouri Valley Conference member Indiana State fields baseball, basketball, cross country, football and track and field teams for men plus basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, track and field and volleyball teams for women. Two weeks ago Clinkscales, 51, was named to the NCAA Baseball Committee. As the 2022 Division I season gets closer to the postseason, the committee will meet to discuss the teams that are trending up or down and then determine the top seeds. Committee members will become regional and super regional directors and serve as team administrators at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. “We’ll make sure their experience is top notch,” says Clinkscales. In 2021, Indiana State went 31-21 and played in the Nashville Regional. It was the eighth season for ISU alum Mitch Hannahs as Sycamores head coach. While they never competed against one another, Clinkscale’s relationship with Hannahs goes way back. “I know Mitch well,” says Clinkscales. “He’s a good man that I respect immensely. He’s one of the best coaches in the country.” Clinkscales says Hannahs’ success stems from his understanding of players and an intuitiveness as a tactician. “He has a knack for getting the best out of players and knows when to push them and when not to,” says Clinkscales. “He’s an excellent recruiter and finds guys that fit his system. “He genuinely cares about his young men. He’s authentic. You always know where you stand with Mitch.” While Indiana State is a northern school and — in football terms — is not in a power five conference, Sycamores baseball has long been competitive on a national level. “That starts with Coach (Bob) Warn,” says Clinkscales of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer whose name is on the ISU baseball field. “I grew up in the ‘80s and Indiana State was the best program in the state of Indiana. “Mitch was a part of that and he has taken that even further. Indiana State is just a wonderful institution. We get kids that love the game of baseball, love to play it and love to learn it.” Clinkscales says generations of parents have come to understand the toughness that it takes to play in Terre Haute. “They’re more than happy to send their kids to play for a man like Mitch,” says Clinkscales. “They know what they’re getting.” A standout basketball player for Mike Miller, Clinkscales began getting noticed at the college level for his baseball skills with Brebeuf’s summer team. “I was always a good athlete,” says Clinkscales, a 1989 Brebeuf graduate. “I played baseball because it was fun.” The baseball Braves were coached by Kevin Stephenson. “Coach was outstanding,” says Clinkscales of Stephenson. “He was a really good guy who stuck with me.” At Purdue, Clinkscales played one season (1989-90) as a walk-on guard for Boilermakers head basketball coach Gene Keady and three springs for head baseball coach Dave Alexander (1990-92). “(Keady and Alexander) stuck by me when I struggled,” says Clinkscales. “I owe everything to where I am today to Dave Alexander. Dave took a chance on me. “He was tough, authentic and honest. Coach definitely cared about me and got the most out of me.” The relationship continued a few years after his playing days when Clinkscales and Alexander were scouts in the same Midwest territories. Right-handed pitcher Clinkscales was a “sandwich” round pick of the Kansas City Royals in the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (31st overall selection) and played for the 1992 Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, 1993 and 1994 Rockford (Ill.) Royals and 1994 Gulf Coast (Fla.) Royals. What did Clinkscales appreciate most about being a player? “The camaraderie and going to the ball park to spend time with buddies,” says Clinkscales. “Baseball is such a team sport. You’re getting to know guys (from diverse backgrounds).” After being released by the Royals, Clinkscales went to extended spring training with the Chicago Cubs in 1995 then decided to pursue scouting and other ventures. Clinkscales was an area scouting supervisor of the Atlanta Braves 1997-99, assistant director of scouting for the Tampa Bay Rays 1999-2001 then a professional and amateur scout for the Braves 2001-06. He was also founder and president of Indianapolis-based AfterSport Group, a consulting firm for high school, college and professional athletic communities. “I absolutely loved it,” says Clinkscales of scouting. “It was one of the thrills of my life.” He relished identifying potential big leaguers through observation. Baseball was not so analytics and stats-driven at that time. “I was able to get to know the player,” says Clinkscales. “Make-up is everything. You have to be a tough son of a gun to play Major League Baseball. Only the strong survive. “It comes down to toughness, luck, consistency and being in the right place at the right time.” Then came the opportunity be pitching coach for head coach Dave Schrage at the University of Notre Dame for three seasons (2007-09). “I’m grateful for the chance he took on a guy who’d never coached before,” says Clinkscales of Schrage, now head coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. “He saw the positive things. He knows the game inside and out.” Clinkscales learned how difficult coaching can be. “It’s hard,” says Clinkscales. “You have to really love coaching. It all starts with leadership. You have to work together as a team and assistants have to do their jobs well. “It takes a special person to be a coach.” Clinkscales equates coach with teacher. “To get the most out of a young man that doesn’t know how much he has is a gift,” says Clinkscales, who has gotten to interview and hire many coaches in his AD role. Clinkscales was Assistant Director of Championships for the NCAA in Indianapolis 2009-11 and Senior Associate Athletic Director at North Carolina State University 2011-16 — serving on the staff of Wolfpack AD Debbie Yow. A holder of a History degree from Purdue in 1994, Clinkscales completed a masters in Sports Management from North Carolina State in 2016. The fall semester at ISU begins Aug. 18 and young people are now back on the campus. “I enjoy the student-athletes,” says Clinkscales. “It’s the purity that I really enjoy. They are students first and achieving in the classroom and on the field. “You build relationships with students and coaches. They get kids to execute and learn how to deal with the losses. I’m working with a staff that loves doing what I’m doing. They work hard and pick each other up. “I thank God I have the opportunity to be an athletic director.” Clinkscales has two children — North Carolina Wesleyan University graduate Alex Clinkscales and Carnegie Mellon University graduate Tara Clinkscales. Sherard and second wife Monica reside in Terre Haute.
Notre Dame powered its way to a South Bend Regional championship and now the Irish know they will play host and No. 7 national seed Mississippi State in the NCAA Division I tournament‘s Starkville Super Regional (the Bulldogs went unbeaten in winning the Starkville Regional, which wrapped Monday, June 7). The winner of that best-of-3 super regional series June 11-14 at Dudy Noble Field/Polk-DeMent Stadium will advance to the eight-team College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Former Indiana University head coachChris Lemonis is the bench boss for the MSU Bulldogs. Link Jarrett is in his second season as head coach at Notre Dame (33-11). The No. 10 seed Irish lashed 49 hits with 23 for extra bases and 15 home runs in beating Central Michigan 10-0, Connecticut 26-3 and Central Michigan 14-2 Friday through Sunday June 4-6 at Frank Eck Stadium in taking the South Bend Regional. Irish senior first baseman Niko Kavadas (Penn High School graduate) belted two home runs and drove in four runs in the first win against CMU. The lefty slugger that smacked two homers and drove in eight against UConn. In the second game against Central Michigan, Kavadas hit one homer (his school record-setting 21st of the season) with one RBI. The other dingers rang off the bats of junior Carter Putz (4), senior Ryan Cole (3), junior Brooks Coetzee (2) and senior David LaManna. Indiana State saw its season end at the Nashville Regional hosted by Vanderbilt. The Mitch Hannahs-coached Sycamores lost 7-6 to Georgia Tech, beat Presbyterian 9-2 and lost 9-0 to Georgia Tech. Redshirt junior Jordan Schaffer (West Vigo High School) hit .367 with seven homers, one triple, 10 doubles, 34 runs batted in, 52 runs scored and 11 stolen bases for ISU (31-21). Indiana University Southeast was greeted by a large crowd when it got back to New Albany after its first appearance in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. Playing May 28-June 1, Ben Reel’s Grenadiers (50-16) topped against Concordia (Neb) 4-2, lost 11-5 to Central Methodist (Mo.), bested Keiser (Fla.) 9-7 and lost 14-10 to Faulkner (Ala,). For the season, senior Matt Monahan (who missed the World Series because of injury) hit .428, junior Brody Tanksley (Bedford North Lawrence High School) drove in 70 runs and junior Clay Woeste (Lawrenceburg High School) stole 38 bases. Georgia Gwinnett — coached by former Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.) assistant Jeremy Sheetinger — won the red banner as 2021 NAIA national champions. Sheets returned to coaching this season after serving with the American Baseball Coaches Association. He hosts the Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV.
Tech concluded play in 2020 much sooner than planned because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
With a win against Viterbo March 11 in Georgia, the Warriors finished at 11-5.
Since then, the Tech team and coaching staff have been moving forward while social distancing.
“Everybody’s numb to how it happened,” says second-year assistant coach Brent Alwine of how the season was rolling and then came to a screeching halt. “We’ve got (players) doing workouts. We’re hoping a lot of guys get to play this summer.
“So much is unknown.”
What is known for Alwine is that he is not the same coach at 36 and married with three sons and with many different diamond experiences behind him than he was at 23 and just out of college.
“I used to think there was only one way to teach,” says Alwine, who works with infielders and hitters. “You learn to adapt to the personnel you have rather than philosophy that’s cut and dried.”
It has also become relational vs. transactional. It’s a point that has become clearer since Brent and Brandi Alwine, a physician’s assistant for Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, have had Beckett (7), Bode (5) and Brooks (8 months). All three have baseball ties to their names.
There are four reasons for Beckett — the sports card magazine, the ballplayer (Josh Beckett), the brand of boilers his father, Jim, sells, and the town in Massachusetts where he worked at a camp with former Indiana University head baseball coach Bob Morgan. The boy’s full name is Beckett Steven James Alwine. Brandi’s father Steve passed away in 2001. The other middle name to to honor Brent’s father, who has coached high school baseball at North Miami and Peru.
Bode’s middle name is Maddux as an homage for Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.
Brooks is a nod to former Western Michigan University catcher Brooks Beilke.
“I’m coaching someone’s kids,” says Alwine. “I want to win. But I would rather win and 10 years down the line have a relationship with the players I coached.”
Alwine joined head coach Kip McWilliams in Fort Wayne, Ind., having been an assistant to Billy Gernon at Western Michigan (2011 and 2012), Ed Servais at Creighton University (2009 and 2010) and Gernon at alma mater Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (2007 and 2008). He holds a bachelor’s degree from IPFW (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and a master’s degree from Indiana University.
“You learn a lot when you coach younger kids,” says Alwine. “You have to really explain things and get them to buy into it.”
An attribute that Alwine appreciates about McWilliams is that he values the opinions of his assistants.
“He lets his assistant coach,” says Alwine. “He doesn’t micro-manage and he looks for our input.
“I trust him. In today’s world, it’s hard to trust everybody.”
Alwine has a few points of emphasis with his infielders.
“I want them to be athletic and take good angles to the baseball,” says Alwine. “It starts with our throwing program. Throwing and catching is the main thing in baseball.”
He makes it a point to observe when his fielders are playing catch to see that they are getting their footwork right and taking it seriously.
“When the pressure’s on, a good throw is going to win you a game,” says Alwine, who has his infielders practicing double players during between-innings warm-ups.
Alwine observes how organized McWilliams is, something that is vital when you carry a roster of more than 60 players — varsity and developmental.
“You have to be organized to get everybody involved,” says Alwine. “Year 2 helped me see that a little better than Year 1.”
The Warriors make a point of hustling all the time — even the coaching staff runs on the field.
“That’s the way it should be,” says Alwine. “(On game day), it sets a tone for your own team and the team you’re getting ready to play.
“These guys are here for business.”
Alwine says having the season stopped is likely to make the players more appreciative of the opportunity to play when fall camp rolls around.
“Fall can be a tough time to motivate because there’s nothing on the line,” says Alwine. “(Players) should be excited. They had baseball taken away from them.”
Alwine says 10 of 14 seniors this spring have opted to come back for an extra year of eligibility granted by the NAIA.
With the Indiana Tech campus closed to all but essential workers, students have been finishing their spring term online.
“It’s new to a lot of these professors, too,” says Alwine. “Everybody’s going through the same thing. It’s brought a sense of community back.”
To stay connected the to the baseball community,Alwine says Tech coaches have regular Zoom meetings. These have been done by class and within the staff, which also includes Gordon Turner, Miguel Tucker and Marshall Oetting, and will also include positions, incoming freshmen and transfers.
Alwine was born in Peru, Ind., and grew up in Mexico, Ind. He played soccer, a little basketball and baseball North Miami Middle/High School. John Burrus was the head coach for basketball and baseball. Alwine was a shortstop on the diamond.
At IPFW, he played second base for Gernon.
“He does things the right way,” says Alwine of Gernon. “He demands a lot of his players. He care for his players, too.”
Alwine went to Creighton to be a volunteer coach. Within a month of arriving in Omaha, Neb., a paid assistant position opened up and he took it. There, he was in charge of outfielders and catchers.
“It made me a better coach,” says Alwine. “I had to learn those positions in detail to make players better.”
Servais displayed an attention to detail and stressed the fundamentals.
“That’s why Creighton — year in and year out — leads the country defensively.”
Servais, the uncle of former big league catcher Scott Servais, did not get too high or too low.
“He’s very level-headed,” says Alwine. “He thinks forward — next player, next pitch, next at-bat.”
The Bluejays skipper has been rewarded with 745 career victories.
More than 20 players that have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including two at Creighton that made it to the majors — San Franciso Giants first baseman Darin Ruf and Baltimore Orioles left-handed pitcher Ty Blach.
Alwine coached infielders and hitters at Western Michigan. He was in the fall of his second year with the Broncos when he got into a very bad car accident on I-94 near Kalamazoo, Mich.
Among the first requests he had was for a second opinion on the plastic surgeon.
“I am very, very fortunate to be alive,” says Alwine. “God was looking out for me that day. The biggest thing is the amount of people who prayed for me.
“I had very positive people around me who supported me and got me through it. I get to coach baseball and see my kids grow up.”
Brent Alwine (left) observes players during Indiana Tech’s 2019 NAIA World Series appearance. It was Alwine’s first season on the Warriors baseball coaching staff. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Brent Alwine (center) is in his second season as an assistant baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2020. He is a graduate of North Miami High School and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Ristano uses an assessment with his ND arms he calls MMA — Mechanics, Metrics, Arm.
Ristano’s priorities for mechanics:
Establish an efficient/repeatable delivery.
“If you can repeat in an efficient manner we can, hopefully, keep you healthy and put the baseball where you want it,” says Ristano. “There’s not a lot of starts and stops. Once we start, we go.”
“To me, it lacks pauses and slow deliberate actions. Speeding the delivery up is usually one of the adjustments we make before we talk about arm path, hip and shoulder separation and what we look like at foot strike.”
Ristano uses the analogy of riding a bike to talk about funneling energy to home plate.
“I want the energy to go forward,” says Ristano. “If I ride slow and deliberate, I wobble.
“If I ride that line with some pace and stay in control, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to stay on a straight line.”
• Establish dynamic balance.
• Pitch athletically.
“You don’t want to take the venom out of the snake,” says Ristano. “You’re a good athlete and you need to pitch that way.
“The worst label you can get as an amateur or a high school player is the P.O. (pitcher only). It’s the most disgusting verbiage you can have for a pitching coach.
“The game doesn’t go until (the pitcher) decides it does. You start to label yourself into the P.O. mentality, you limit your athleticism.
“We want guys to behave and move athletically and pitch accordingly.”
• Glove in front of chest at release (proper blocking technique).
“We think about breaking the body in half,” says Ristano. “The front side is the steering wheel. The back side is the accelerator.”
Ristano teaches a “shadow sequence” where the delivery is broken down into six phases:
• Low balance. It’s the beginning of the leg lift.
• Dynamic balance. It comes at the peak.
• Hand separation. When the pitcher starts to come down toward the belt buckle.
• Power position/foot strike. Achieve symmetry with the lead and throwing arms.
• Release. Tension on the back side become energy on the front side.
• Finish. This is where the blocking technique comes in. The back foot comes off the ground and front side is firmed up.
In practice, pitchers of drills were they get to each of the phases to test their strengths and weaknesses and gain a feel for their delivery.
“If you want to find where the inefficiency in the delivery is, do it backward (finish to release to power position/foot strike to hand separation to dynamic balance to low balance),” says Ristano. “It’s a little weird. We call it ‘back shaping.’
“Some of these are monotonous, but they can really help if you do it right.”
Ristano also has his hurlers do three core drills:
• 3-pump balance. The quad is lifted three times before a throw is made. It helps to hit delivery check points. Energy is collected. The front foot comes off the ground. It is done at the pace of the delivery.
• Trace/retrace. There is a toe tap, the ball is brought back to the middle and then the throw is made. A trace is made from balance to power to balance. The energy stays over the back quad at landing. At toe tap, the throwing arm should be at peak height to be one time in the release zone.
• Kershaw’s/Houston’s. Based on social media visuals, including those of Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, pitchers doing this drill get to the lowest point in their delivery and pause before they go forward. After that, the front hip goes and the sequencing toward home plate begins. The cues are: Hip, heel, toe, knee.
There’s also a drill that Ristano has called “El Duque’s” based on the delivery of former big league pitcher Orlando Hernandez.
“We throw from the ground up,” says Ristano. “We use the ground to go forward.
How quickly can I get that lower body going and force my upper body to catch up.”
Additional throwing drills (with purpose):
• One-hop drill (extension, release point and athleticism).
• Softball catch (extension and manipulation of spin).
• Maestro (Scap load, hand speed and opposite/equal).
• Weighted glove (stable front side and back side).
• Figure-8’s (hand speed).
Ristano says he has become a real believer in mechanical development via strength and share some statistics.
Reading an MLB.com article from two years ago, Ristano saw that the average height of an American male was 5-foot-10, yet 14 MLB teams didn’t have a pitcher under 6 feet tall.
The New York Yankees had one pitcher under 6-2 and boast five pitchers at least 6-7. The St. Louis Cardinals had eight pitchers 6-4 or taller. The Kansas City Royals were the only team in baseball with five pitchers 6 feet or under.
Of the top 50 pitchers of the last decade, less than five were 200 pounds or less.
“I know you can’t do much to manipulate your height,” says Ristano. “What’s my actionable data?
“I show this to my guys not because ‘mass equals gas.’ But pitchers today are men.
“As you develop, it’s important what training values you choose.
“(Strength and conditioning) is your new modality to get better. Sometimes when you’re having trouble throwing strikes, the key sometimes is not some wild mechanical adjustment. Sometimes it’s just that you lack the strength to be able to execute the highest angular velocity movements — the pitching delivery — that the world knows 100 times in a game and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it.
“You’ll be shocked once you start to hammer the strength and conditioning component, how well your body begins to align even when you’re not thinking about mechanics.
“It works for us.”
Kyle Jean is the strength and conditioning coach for the Irish.
Ristano says that developing the entire kinetic chain is taught at Notre Dame.
A native of Valley Stream, N.Y., and left-hander who pitched at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., certain workouts were not done when Ristano was in college.
“We didn’t touch the upper body,” says Ristano. “We pulled more than we pushed.
“There’s some validity to that to this day still, but we build guys who are big, tough and capable of withstanding 14, 15 or 16 starts if we’re going to pitch in Omaha (at the College World Series.”
Ristano says the earlier a pitcher can adopt this routine, the easier is will be for them.
ND pitchers use many tools including MediBall medicine balls.
Ristano makes these points regarding the value of metrics:
• Quantify what the eye sees.
• Validation of what we already know.
• Seeing some of what we don’t know.
“I know that not everybody has access to Rapsodo, TrackMan, Edgertronic,” says Ristano. “But it will become part of everybody’s development plan.”
ND’s director of baseball operations, who is now Steven Rosen, gives reports to the coaches after every outing and the data is shared with the players.
“What I look at immediately if I’m evaluating metrics is pitch movements (what are my pitches doing?),” says Ristano. This involves vertical and horizontal break plus spin efficiency rates and velocity. “You don’t just track it in singular entities. You have to track it over time to maximize the effectiveness of it.”
As for the arm, Ristano says conditioning is key and that the kinetic chain can break anywhere.
“If you don’t train your body holistically, you’re not conditioning yourself to be today’s pitcher,” says Ristano, who adds a caution. “When you get the benefit of throwing harder, you absorb the risk that angular velocities increase and you become more susceptible, unfortunately, to injury. How many guys throw 100 (mph) now vs. 10 years ago?
“You’ve got to be willing to adapt your training modalities and condition the entire body if you’re going to accept the gift of throwing harder.”
Ristano says low-intensity throwing can build feel for a pitcher.
The coach likes his hurlers to be able to spin the baseball at a low intensity and distance.
“You want to develop secondary stuff,” says Ristano. “Can I pronate from me to you (when playing catch) and still put the ball in your center of mass?”
Ristano says the bottom line is getting people out. That’s the job function.
“You need to learn how to build feel,” says Ristano. “The feel is the deal.”
There must be a time off from throwing.
“A rest period is worthless if you don’t get four weeks off at a time,” says Ristano, noting that time off from throwing doesn’t mean time off from training.
Most ND pitchers stopped throwing two weeks ago and won’t begin again until the second or third week of December. The Irish open the 2020 season on Feb. 14.
Ristano says the Irish long toss and it looks different depending on whether it’s in-season or out-of-season.
In-season, the pitcher is building to his next outing. Out-of-season, they can let it fly. Some throw 300 feet or more.
It’s a two-part phase in long toss — stretching out (aggressive with the lower half and easy with the arm).
Once at peak distance (which varies from day to day), Ristano says his pitchers spend as much time coming in as they do going out.
“I go from aggressive lower half and easy arm to aggressive lower half and aggressive arm,” says Ristano. “I keep those throws at eye level.
“That’s how you build arm strength with the long toss.”
Ristano talked about the progression of Notre Dame pitchers from preseason to season:
• Arm regeneration phase (late October to early December).
• End-of-semester throwing packet.
• Return to campus ready to hit the mound.
• Separation of roles (build up pitch count and get comfortable pitching in relief roles).
A sample week for an ND’s Friday night starter looks like this:
• Friday (pitch live with postgame flush cardio and recovery bands).
• Satruday (optional throwing with sprints, post game charts and lower body work).
• Sunday (long toss and MediBall circuit).
• Monday (short bullpen, intermediate cardio, postgame video review and total body work).
• Tuesday (drills, sprints and MediBall circuit).
• Wednesday (bullpen and intermediate cardio).
• Thursday (optional throwing).
This past fall, the first new Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett, pitchers did not go above 50 pitches per outing. Appearances were prioritized over building up pitches and innings.
“What are we building up to?,” says Ristano. “We don’t need a guy to throw six innings in October.”
After the season, Irish pitchers receive the following:
• Full assessment of performance (see season summary).
• Clear directives on what needs to improve.
• Determination of what is best for your summer (continue pitching, rest, strengthening etc.).
Rest the arm is key for collegians and high schoolers alike.
“Be confident enough in who you are to take some time off,” says Ristano. “The bullets you fire at 15, 16, 17 years old, you don’t know the damage it potentially does until that kid’s 20 years old and he’s becoming a man.
“I’m not laying the arm injuries on the high school coaches because we are just as responsible. We bring guys back on short rest. We try to go to the College World Series. Big league baseball has its starters pitching the bullpen.
“When you’re 16, you don’t need to start Friday, pitch in relief Tuesday and start Friday again.”
Notre Dame emphasizes and charts getting ahead in the count and being efficient.
“We want to get the at-bat over in three pitches or less (A3P),” says Ristano. “We’ve tracked this for four years. We know that with a first-pitch strike, 72 percent of the time we get a positive outcome. When we executive an A3P, 75 percent of the time it results in a positive outcome.”
Ristano offers a final “M” — Mentality:
• Identity (what we want to be, how we want to be viewed).
• Culture (how we go about our business).
“How do we handle our business?,” says Ristano. “From the outside looking in, what would you take away from watching the Notre Dame pitching staff.
“We embrace each guy’s individuality. But we have to respect the standards of the group.”
Ristano says there are three parts to pitching the “Notre Dame Way.”
“We want to work fast, pitch offensively and project confidence,” says Ristano. “It’s very simple. It has nothing to do with our velocity.”
“You do not out-think hitters in the ACC,” says Ristano. “You do not out-think hitters in most of college baseball.
“What do you do? You out-execute hitters. At this level, we prioritize pitch execution over selection. You throw the pitch you want to throw. I call pitches and let our guys shake (off the sign). But, at the end of the day, the well-executed pitch that was wrong is better than the poorly-executed pitch that was correct.”
It’s about developing young men who attack their work with ferocity.
“If you’re ready to go, suffocate the opposition,” says Ristano. “Press. Press. Press.
“It keeps the defense engaged. It’s a thing of beauty when you have a guy who’s throwing strikes. It’s disgusting when you have a guy who is not.”
Ristano says he is proud of be part of the state’s baseball community.
“I get that our locker room is populated by kids from 17 different states,” says Ristano. “But, yes, we have to do a really, really good job in the state of Indiana
“(Notre Dame is) a unique place that has unique standards aside from whether or not you can play.”
Ristano encourages coaches to “be a thief.”
“Learn something from everybody,” says Ristano, who still repeats ideas he heard at his first coaches clinic from Oklahoma City University head coach Denney Crabaugh. “Be willing to share and ask questions. Ego is the enemy.
“Be confident in what you do. We’re not all right and we’re not all wrong. What we do works for us.
“If you’re not comfortable teaching it, it makes it really hard to get buy-in from your players.”
Ristano says great pitchers think:
• 9 vs. 1 mentality.
“The deck is stacked in your favor as a pitcher,” says Ristano.
• Focus on what they can control.
• Embrace pressure situations.
• One pitch at a time mentality.
• Focus on solutions over problems.
• Embrace competition and don’t use how they feel/mechanics as a crutch.
These are the conduct standards at Notre Dame:
• Best effort in everything that you do.
• Bring energy. Also be vigilant against those who suck the energy out of us (gravity vs. energy).
“We don’t want the gravity to pull us down, we want the energy to pull us up,” says Ristano. “Are you a fountain or a drain?”
• Expect the best, don’t hope for it.
• Value what you project to the world (body language).
“Have some energy,” says Ristano. “If you don’t have it, fake it. It really matters. Somebody’s always watching.”
• Take advantage of additional development opportunities.
You want to be great? Do stuff that’s pitching-related but doesn’t actually consist of the actual throwing mechanics — MediBall stuff, video review, low-intensity throwing.
• Honest/constructive dialogue between teammates (as well as players and coaches).
“Spoiler alert: Your parents don’t give you honest/construct dialogue,” says Ristano. “At the end of the day, talk your coach. He’s there for a reason.
“What do I need to do to be better. There has to be an element of trust in your circle.”
Chuck Ristano enters his 10th season as pitching coach for the University of Notre Dame baseball team in 2020. (University of Notre Dame Photo)
Chuck Ristano, the baseball pitching coach at the University of Notre Dame, takes an aggressive approach with his staff. He wants them to train and execute with ferocity. (University of Notre Dame Photo)
Chuck Ristano is entering his 10th season as baseball pitching coach at the University of Notre Dame. He is now working with new head coach Link Jarrett. (University of Notre Dame Photo)
“We’re going to have to be in overachieve mode somewhat,” says Schreiber, who was hired at PFW in July 2019. “We’re going to be looking at players to play a little bit above their skill level.
“To be able to overachieve, you have to have the intangibles. You have to have the proper attitude and outlook. We’re recruiting attitude and that’s going to be a big focus.
“We want to make sure guys understand that having a positive attitude, a maturity level and a passion to play is the foundation of the program with respect, work ethic and trust being some of the cornerstones of what we’re trying to build.”
Schreiber says he makes few guarantees to his players. He doesn’t promise them he’ll add 10 mph to their fastball, get them drafted or even give them a starting position.
“One of the things I think I can guarantee is that if you don’t have the right attitude and the right mindset, you definitely aren’t going to overachieve and play above your skill set,” says Schreiber. “You are probably going to play below your skill set.”
A head coach for 20 seasons in West Lafayette, Ind., — 18 at Purdue University (1999-2016) and two at McCutcheon High School (20018-19), Schreiber knows that Purdue Fort Wayne may not be the biggest school with the very best facilities.
How does Schreiber and company recognize the intangibles during the recruiting process?
Stuff on the mound, bat speed and range in the field are fairly evident. It’s not as obvious with other attributes.
“It’s tough.” says Schreiber. “You do have to spend a little more time. In some of the recruiting opportunities, you just get a quick look.”
Because of NCAAA rules, coaches don’t get spend as an inordinate amount of time with the prospective student-athlete. That’s where they rely on the players’ coaches (high school, travel, junior college).
Schreiber said the vetting process also includes the answers that come from casual conversation.
The Mastodons staff has learned how to read body language. It’s something they pick up on when watching a recruit when they or their teammates are struggling and it’s something they can see in players on the roster.
“We can’t see what’s inside their head, their heart or their gut,” says Schreiber. “The best way you have at least a clue on what’s going on in there is their body language.
“It definitely is a red flag when you see some disrespect and those types of things.”
It’s important because there are only so many roster spots available (up to 35 with 11.7 scholarships at the D-I level) and coaches have to get it right.
“Within their baseball life, we’re going to have compassion for them as individuals with anything that’s going on in their life,” says Schreiber. “But we just don’t have time for them to feel sorry for themselves.
“It’s a tough enough game that if they start to feel sorry for themselves, that’s the beginning of a negative attitude. They’re going to start making excuses, blaming other people or not taking responsibility. We have to have student-athletes that are mature enough and coachable enough to be able to handle adversity and persevere through those types of things.”
Schreiber says human beings have negative thoughts. What are done with those are the key.
“Do you act out on them?,” says Schreiber. “Do you voice your negative opinion? There’s all kinds of things that can get you in trouble.
“We have to teach them how to channel those negative thoughts into some positive action and positive thoughts.”
Schreiber also puts stock in mental development. With that in mind, he will have his players in classroom settings taking part in open discussions on life skills.
Topics will include “a winning mentality vs. a whining mentality” plus leadership, team unity and much more.
Prior to taking over at Purdue, Schreiber served as an assistant at Ball State University (1991-92), Butler University (1993), the University of Notre Dame (1994) and Arizona State University (1995-98).
That’s why he values his experience at McCutcheon. When he went into coaching, he thought he would be at the high school level — something his father — 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber excelled at for 39 years at LaPorte (Ind.) High School.
“I had the opportunity to keep staying at Division I,” says Schreiber. “Itjust kept working out.
“To (coach) at McCutcheon, where (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) Jake Burton had built the program up to such a high caliber was a great experience.”
Working with high school student-athletes, Schreiber learned about patience.
“I feel like I became a better coach by coaching younger players,” says Schreiber. “Those are the players we’re going to be recruiting now.
“Getting in-tune with how they communicate amongst each other and with coaches, parents and everything was an important piece of it, too.”
After his coaching tenure at Purdue, Schreiber went into an academic job at the school then got his real estate license, but never got into that field too heavily with his coaching position at McCutcheon.
“I knew I wanted to continue to coach,” says McCutcheon. “I looked into few opportunities, but when this one (at Purdue Fort Wayne) came forward it was something I was very, very interested in and was very fortunate I got the opportunity to do it.”
“Staying in Indiana was important to my wife (McCutcheon guidance counselor Sarah) and I. We had visited and done some things in Fort Wayne. I’ve recruited over here.
“Fort Wayne is a great city. It’s got a lot of everything, but it still has the small Midwest town feel.”
The Schreiber have purchased a home in Fort Wayne, meaning the coach does not have the long commute he had when he first was hired.
“Other than that, it’s been smooth and thoroughly enjoyable,” says Schreiber of the transition. “Everything has been quality. I’ve got great support from our athletic director.”
Mastodons AD Kelley Hartley Hutton was head women’s volleyball coach for 15 seasons and 13 years as Senior Woman Administrator PFW. She was a four-year player at the University of Toledo.
“She understands the coach’s perspective,” says Schreiber. “We’re into having the best student-athlete experience possible. She gets it from both ends (coach and athlete).”
Staying in the state also allows Schreiber to keep his well-established network of high school and travel ball coaches. There’s also the junior colleges in the region.
This fall, recruiting has included plenty of looks at junior college players, who tend to be more mature physically and mentally.
“That’s not to say we’re not interested in high talent high school players as well,” says Schreiber. “We’re going to try to stay very strong in Indiana — players that have gone on to junior college and those from high schools.”
Ideally, most players will be on-campus for four or five years, giving time to mature and grow into leadership roles.
“There’s a always a little bit of a learning curve,” says Schreiber. “Ultimately, our base is going to be four-year players with a good mix of junior college players.”
Purdue Fort Wayne also participates in the Midwest Student Exchange Program, where students from several surrounding states get a break on out-of-state tuition. That allows Schreiber and company to take a little wider look while keeping Indiana as the recruiting base.
PFW is currently a member of the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). The Mastodons are joining the Horizon League in 2020-21. The league currently features Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, University of Illinois-Chicago, Wright State and Youngstown State.
Schreiber says geography is one factor for the switch.
“Student-athletes are missing a lot of class because of the distance,” says Schreiber. “We do create things with scheduling in the spring that allows them to minimize missed classes.”
That includes moving classes away from late in the day Thursday or altogether Friday and taking more online classes. On the road, there is quiet time for study on the bus and in the hotel. With some long road trips ending on Monday morning, a premium is placed on time and priority management.
“It’s going to benefit them from an academic standpoint,” says Schreiber of the move to the Horizon.
With Schreiber’s hiring, the Slicer quotient doubled for the Mastodons. Doug is a 1982 LaPorte High School graduate. Mastodons senior first baseman Travis Upp, son of current LaPorte head coach Scott Upp, got his diploma at LPHS in 2016.
Doug Schreiber is the head baseball coach at Purdue University Fort Wayne (Ind.) (Steve Krah Photo)
“There certainly is a lot of fire and passion in myself, yet a consistency in how we train, how we practice and what our expectations are,” says Smith, who was hired to lead the Bobcats program June 11, 2012. “I would like to think that I’m very competitive. I would like to think that resonates with our team and that we value hard work.”
“Schreib is a very fiery, passionate coach,” says Smith. “He could really put a charge into a team. Coach Servais had that as well. He was probably the most consistent person I’ve ever been around.
“I’d like to think there’s a combination of a little bit of both (in me).”
Smith was a volunteer assistant at Purdue in 1999 then spent two seasons managing in the summer collegiate Northwoods League with the Wisconsin Woodchucks (winning a championship in 2001) before being hired by Schreiber as the Boilermakers pitching coach.
“Everything that I have been able to do as a coach I owe to that man without question,” says Smith of Schreiber. “He gave me a chance to be a college coach when I really didn’t have the resume to get that position.
“I had five awesome years there.”
Chadd Blasko, who was selected in the first round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, was among Smith’s Purdue pitchers.
Smith was associate head coach at Creighton in Omaha, Neb., 2007-12, while gaining wisdom from Servais.
“He’s — without a doubt — one of the 10 best college baseball coaches in the country,” says Smith of Servais. “He’s an outstanding coach, a great teacher of the game.
“A lot of the things I learned about how to run a practice, how to manage a ball club I learned from my time at Creighton with Ed.”
Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, now with the San Francisco Giants organization, was a part of the Smith-led Bluejays staff.
Smith has built the Ohio Bobcats on a few simple concepts.
“In our program pitching and defense are two very big things that we spend a lot of time talking about,” says Smith. “It’s handling the ball and eliminating free bases.”
Ohio, a member of the Mid-American Conference, won MAC tournament titles and qualified for NCAA regional play in 2015 and 2017. Prior to 2015, the Bobcats had made just two NCAA tournament appearances in the 43 previous seasons.
Smith coached four Bobcats — right-handed pitchers Brett Barber, Tom Colletti and Logan Cozart and outfielder Mitch Longo — that went on to play minor league baseball. Colletti is currently in the San Diego Padres system, Cozart with the Colorado Rockies organization and Longo in the Cleveland Indians chain.
The 2019 team is 17-32 overall and 11-14 in the MAC and fighting for a spot in the six-team conference tournament, which is May 22-26 in Avon, Ohio. The Bobcats split the first two of a three-game series at Western Michigan, coached by Indiana native Billy Gernon, May 16 and 17.
“Coach Blemker taught me a lot,” says Smith. “Certainly baseball stuff, but probably more so about discipline, growing up and being a man.
“He’s been very instrumental in my life. He helped me mature. He was very patient with me through some times where I probably not the easiest player to coach.
“His patience and understanding and his toughness helped me in so many ways.”
At IUS, Smith saw right away Parr’s passion and knowledge about hitting.
Smith’s first college coaching gig came in 1998 at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, where Mike Moyzis was head coach and Rick O’Dette (who would coach the the Pumas for years until the school was closed and is now leading the program at Saint Leo University in Florida).
At Ohio U., Smith uses statistics, trends and analysis to make decisions, especially in pitch calling.
“I believe in analytics,” says Smith. “I believe there’s a place for it. It’s very useful if you can get the right information.
“That’s always been the issue at the college level. The information you can get your hands on at times is spotty. It’s getting better and better. There’s the ability to watch film and more games are on TV.There’s a lot more resources to gather good information to make decisions.”
Smith says the higher the sample size, the more reliable the information.
Rob and RaeAnna are the parents of four teenagers — identical twins Sierra and Serena (19), Tyson (15) and Isabelle (13). The twins just completed their freshmen year at Ohio. Tyson is a high school freshman. Isabelle is in the seventh grade.
Rob Smith brings combination of intensity and consistency in his seventh season as head baseball coach at Ohio University in 2019. (/Emilee Chinn/Ohio University Photo)
Rob Smith started as head baseball coach at Ohio University June 11, 2012. He took he Bobcats to the Mid-American Conference tournament titles and NCAA tournament berths in 2015 and 2017. (Maddie Schroeder/Ohio University Photo)
Rob Smith is the head baseball coach at Ohio University. He grew up in Ellettsville, Ind. He played and coached Edgewood High School, played at Vincennes University and Indiana University Southeast and coached at Purdue University and Creighton University before landing in Athens. (Ohio University Photo)
Birely, 36, has been on the job since the 2009 season. The Mastodons are scheduled to open the 2019 campaign Feb. 15-17 with four games at Alabama A&M.
The Purdue Fort Wayne roster features 14 active pitchers with two who will likely be medical redshirts.
“I make an individual plan with each of them to become the best they can,” says Birely. “As they get older and go through the program, they take a lot of ownership of their own development and I become a consultant for them. With the young guys, it’s about teaching them what it takes to pitch at this level.”
Birely says the cornerstone of Mastodons pitching is throwing and learning to spin pitches.
“In some form or fashion, there is throwing each day,” says Birely. “It might be 60 feet one day just to get loose. It might be 350 feet if they’re going to long toss that day. I don’t put a distance restriction on them. We tell them to listen to their arm and see how it feels each day.”
The point is, collegiate pitchers are asked to throw a lot.
“There’s no better way to learn to throw than to throw,” says Birely. “We’re working on their craft every single day.”
Playing baseball at the college level, especially Division I, is a major commitment between school work and hours spend getting ready for and playing games.
“We spend everyday with them and they spend so much time on it, they have to love baseball and showing up everyday and working on it,” says Birely. “One thing they’ll leave with is time management when they head into the real world.”
Purdue Fort Wayne pitchers do a hybrid training program that includes band work, stretching and some weighted-ball movements.
“We don’t dive straight into a full weight-ball program because these guys are competing the minute they get on-campus,” says Birely. “They never really have that down time to solely focus on velocity or anything like that. We’re always trying to work on command (of the strike zone) and commanding a second pitch.”
When the weather keeps the Mastodons off the frozen tundra, they do their throwing in a spacious fieldhouse large enough to make tosses of up to 250 or 260 feet.
“We’re very lucky to have that,” says Birely. “It’s just high enough so they can get a little bit of air under the baseball.”
The top two pitchers from 2018 in terms of innings pitched and victories are gone. Right-hander Brandon Phelps, a Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate, pitched 83 innings and won five games as a redshirt senior. Left-hander Damian Helm worked 73 1/3 innings with four victories in his senior season.
As the Mastodons head into the only four-game series of 2019, Birely says junior right-hander Chase Phelps (Brandon’s brother and also a Fort Wayne Snider graduate), junior right-hander Cameron Boyd (Fishers) and redshirt senior right-hander Shane Odzark will get the first opportunity to be starting pitchers.
The bullpen is being built with establishing strength in the late innings as a priority.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are excited to try to go and finish games,” says Birely, who counts freshman left-hander Justin Miller (Homestead), sophomore right-hander Sean Ferguson (New Haven) and freshman right-hander Jarrett Miller in the closer mix.
Birely says two freshmen right-hander — Grant Johnston (Hamilton Southeastern) and Drew Pyle (Hagerstown) — have had injuries that will likely make them redshirts.
The pitching coach has learned that he is dealing with players who have different ways of learning. They might be visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.
“We have some guys who like to see themselves on video and they can make adjustments based off that,” says Birely. “Some guys I have to put in a position kind of in a kinesthetic way so they can feel it.
“It’s definitely a challenge to figure out each guy.”
And figuring it out is key.
“Anyone who is teaching might be the smartest person in the world but if they can’t get that information to the players, it doesn’t really work and it doesn’t help,” says Birely. “It’s been fun finding different ways to teach and different ways to convey information that I have to them.”
Birely notes that the current generation — Generation Z — gets a bad rap for asking so many questions.
“They have all this information at their finger tips,” says Birely. “Some of it is good and some of it is not good.
“I’d rather have them ask me a question or to try to figure something out than to just go and do it on their own.”
Group chats are a way that information is exchanged.
A pitcher will see a video in social media and ask, “what do you think of this, Coach?.”
Birely asks his hurlers to identify their favorite major league pitcher.
“That gives me some insight of who they’re going to watch,” says Birely. “My favorite pitcher to watch growing up was Greg Maddux. I was never the big velocity guy. Watching him throw a baseball looked like watching a wiffleball.”
He also followed the fortunes of another future Hall of Famer. Roy Halladay went to high school just a few years before Birely in nearby Denver suburb of Arvada.
Retired as a player after one season of independent baseball with the Mesa Miners, Birley went into the business world when a friend asked him to help with freshmen tryouts at Regis Jesuit High School, figuring it would just be for a few hours on a Saturday.
“From the moment I walked out there, I was hooked,” says Birely, who spent two seasons at Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo. When Pierce became head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver, he invited Birely to become Roadrunners pitching coach. When Pierce moved to Indiana to lead the IPFW Mastodons, he asked Birely to come with him.
“I wouldn’t have this opportunity without him,” says Birely of Pierce. “He’s been a mentor and a great person to learn from.
“The best thing about him is that he lets everybody in the organization from players to staff go do their job
he gives them the freedom and creativity to make the program better.”
Pierce promotes a spirit of working together for a common goal.
“He’s very positive,” says Birley. “He’s great to work for. He’s awesome to play for. He allows the players the freedom to exchange ideas.
“Let’s figure it out together.”
Grant and Bonnie Birely have figured out how to balance baseball and family life. The couple has two children — Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School senior Tyler (who is active in theater and show choir) and sixth grader Kaylee.
“Like everyday says you’ve got to have a very understand wife,” says Grant. “She’s on this journey with me. Otherwise, I couldn’t do this.
“She keeps the fort going at home.”
Purdue Fort Wayne plays in the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). That makes for a good deal of travel. When the Mastodons go to the Dakotas, they often leave campus on Wednesday night and return at noon Monday.
“(Players) do a great job of doing their schoolwork on the road,” says Birely. “It’s not uncommon to walk through a hotel lobby and there’s 25 or 30 guys doing their homework.
It’s not uncommon for players to ask for the movies to be turned off on the bus to study for an upcoming test.
“We’ve had guys who understand what it means to be a true student-athlete,” says Birely. “It goes back to time management. They have to rely on themselves a lot to make sure they’re getting their work done.”
Coaches will proctor tests for professors, who email the exam and set the time limit and have the coaches sent it back. Other take online classes to allow flexibility and no requirement to be in a classroom.
Christine Kuznar is Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics and meets with players each semester to them on-track toward getting their degree as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“She’s the rock star behind the whole thing,” says Birely.
Purdue Fort Wayne was formerly known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. In its new branding, the Mastodons have adopted black and gold as school colors with a hint of blue as homage to the IPFW brand. (Purdue Fort Wayne Image)
Grant Birely, the baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, is a native of Colorado who played and coached for Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce before following him to Indiana. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
Grant Birely has been baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) since the 2009 season. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)