By STEVE KRAH
Confidence and self-assurance was valued by Jason Van Skike as a baseball player and are traits emphasized by him as a coach.
“Baseball is a great teacher of things that happen in your life,” says Van Skike, the second-year pitching coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School. “You focus on the things you can control. There are three things we talk about everyday — work ethic, attitude and confidence.
“You can’t make up for a lost day,” says Van Skike. “You want to always go to bed at night knowing you put in your best effort.”
That’s work ethic.
“You have a choice to have a good attitude or a bad attitude,” says Van Skike. “It’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to get better.
“If you believe good things are going to happen, good things tend to happen. If you believe bad things are going to happen, bad things tend to happen.”
“My job is to make sure (Westfield pitchers) feel that they are the absolute man,” says Van Skike. “That’s all do-able if they’ve done the things they need to do on the days leading to (the game appearance).”
Van Skike, who turned 31 in April, was a right-handed pitcher at Gig Harbor (Was.) High School, Treasure Valley Community College (Ontario, Ore.) and Indiana State University before the Chicago White Sox system and the independent professional Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. He has coached for Federal Way (Was.) High School, the Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits and Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College.
Rick Heller, who is now head coach at the University of Iowa, was ISU head coach when Van Skike was in Terre Haute. Heller had him join the Sycamores after seeing the righty at a sophomore showcase while he was at Treasure Valley.
“(Heller) would preach ‘chest out; a lot of confidence,’” says Van Skike. “I would hear that all the time. I found out that body language plays into the game. If you can trick yourself into thinking you’re the man, you might be the man.
“(Heller) was always talking about body language and confidence.”
Van Skike says it was not until the end of his college career that this lesson really began to sink in.
“I was an excuse maker,” says Van Skike. “If I walked a guy, it wasn’t my fault.”
“(Herbst) made me feel comfortable,” says Van Skike. “He didn’t try to change too much of what I was.”
Herbst went on to help steer Sean Manaea, who is now in the majors.
“He was a baby giraffe at Indiana State and didn’t know how to pitch,” says Van Skike of Manaea.
Van Skike had come a long way by the time he pitched for the Sycamores.
He entered Gig Harbor, he was 5-foot-5 and maybe 135 pounds. He didn’t make the varsity squad until he was a senior.
“They kept me around since I had a sense of urgency,” says Van Skike, who played for Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pete Jansen. “I ran on and off the field. I needed to in order to stand out.”
By the time he was a senior, he had began to fill out and stood 6-3.
He went to Treasure Valley, where Rick Baumann was head coach, with a fastball clocked at 78-82 mph. That’s when he began showing up an hour early for practice every day to do a towel drill. By the end of the fall, he was up to 84 mph. During indoor workouts, he was sitting at 83-86. On a nice day, the team went outside and he was at 88-91 and he was able to sustain that speed.
“I made a 10 mph jump in a four- to five-month span,” says Van Skike. “I needed those extra reps.”
Extra reps is what Van Skike got in junior college, where there is less restriction on the amount of times players and coaches can spend working on the game.
“I loved every moment of it,” says Van Skike of the juco diamond life. “You spend so many hours with your teammates and coaches. You build that brotherhood. Reflecting back, junior college baseball was the most fun for me.”
Van Skike sings the praises of junior college because it also offers a chance to develop. A juco player might get 60 at-bats in the fall between games and scrimmages and around 200 more in the spring. By the end of their sophomore year, they’ve gotten almost 500 at-bats and that doesn’t count summer ball.
Van Skike says a D-I player who does not crack the lineup as a freshman and sophomore — which is often the case — might go into their junior year with less than 100 career at-bats.
“You’ve got to play,” says Van Skike. “You’ve got to get game experience.”
Van Skike left college in 2011 unsure of his baseball future. Scout Mike Shirley (now amateur scouting director) brought him to Madison County for a workout and signed him to a White Sox contract as an undrafted free agent. He hustled to Bristol, Va., of the Appalachian League and picked up an extra-inning victory in his first outing.
His pitching coach at Bristol was Larry Owens, now head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville.
“(Owens) simplified the game for me,” says Van Skike.
Through 2013, Van Skike appeared in 73 games (64 as a reliever) and went 10-8 with a 3.18 earned run average in 150 2/3 innings. He was 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 74 innings at Advanced Class-A Winston-Salem in 2013.
“(Winston-Salem pitching coach) J.R. Perdew was a tremendous help,” says Van Skike. “He told me things I had never thought about before.
“The more simple you can keep baseball the better off you’re going to be.”
Perdew is now the White Sox assistant pitching coordinator.
Van Skike learned to use a cut fastball to be effective against left-handed hitters.
He had a six-month lease on an apartment in St. Louis and expected to be in spring training in 2014 when he was released by the White Sox. He went to live with his parents — Ike and Cathy Van Skike — in Arizona and got a job delivering pizzas. Not having a steady catch partner, he threw into a chain link fence. Occasionally, he would work out with a high school team and they had no trouble hitting his deliveries.
Still, an invitation was extended in Wichita. Even though he did not have a stellar spring training with the Wingnuts, he had enough of a resume on affiliated ball to keep him. The 2014 season saw him start 26 games and got 12-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 110 innings. He started the American Association All-Star Game and helped Wichita win the league title.
It tended to be very breezy out to left field in Wichita. Van Skike used it to his advantage.
“A lot of hitters get big egos when the wind blows,” says Van Skike. “I made my living down and away (to right-handed hitters) and got roll-overs to the shortstop.”
The 2015 campaign was not as successful (7-8, 4.89 in 116 innings) and Van Skike retired as a player.
“Getting into college coaching is extremely difficult,” says Van Skike. He went with friend Arlo Evasick, the head coach at Federal Way and the Eagles qualified for the 2016 state tournament.
That summer, Van Skike ended up back in Indiana on the coaching staff of Jackrabbits manager Matt Howard, who is now head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo.
Van Skike was starting to prepare for a chance to play pro ball in Australia when Heller let him know about an opportunity in Des Moines.
“I got extremely lucky,” says Van Skike.
David Pearson was hired as DMACC head coach and soon hired Van Skike as an assistant. The two had to dismantle the roster after the first season and went into the second year (2018) with mostly freshmen.
Near the end of that season, Van Skike began to examine his relationship with baseball.
“It consumed my life and I missed a lot of family events (as a player),” says Van Skike. “I began missing those again as a college coach.
“I need more of a balance. I didn’t know what that was at the time.”
Through a fortunate sequence of events, Van Skike moved to central Indiana and wound up taking a job as an Edward Jones financial advisor in Westfield.
He was at the right place at the right time since Westfield High School head coach Ryan Bunnell was also looking to fill a slot for a pitching coach.
“I’m still heavily involved with baseball and I can still be around my family and friends,” says Van Skike. “That’s what I was searching for.
“I’m extremely lucky I’m at Westfield.”
The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“We had an extremely talented group,” says Van Skike of a Shamrocks team that received votes in the Class 4A preseason poll. “We could’ve won state. But there’s nothing we can do to control it.
“It’s an awkward time for these seniors,” says Van Skike. “They almost don’t want to hear about baseball.
“It’s still a little tender.
“We’ve been talking with juniors and saying let’s do it next year for these seniors (in 2021). They shouldn’t complain one day. Don’t ever take things for granted.”
To help fill the baseball void, Van Skike and Bunnell talk about the game almost daily. They are also involved in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Zoom video conference instructional meetings on Thursday nights.
Jason Van Skike is a financial advisor at Edwards Jones and the pitching coach at Westfield High School, both in Westfield, Ind. The graduate of Gig Harbor High School in Washington pitched at Treasure Valley Community College Oregon and Indiana State University as well as in the Chicago White Sox organization and in independent professional baseball. (Edwards Jones Photo)
Westfield (Ind.) High School varsity baseball coaches in 2020 include (from left): assistant Bill Lindley, head coach Ryan Bunnell and assistant Jason Van Skike. Shamrocks pitchers are led by Van Skike, who played collegiately at Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon and Indiana State University and professionally in the Chicago White Sox system and with the independent Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. (Westfield High School Photo)