Reese Sharp has thrown a baseball 97 mph. The right-handed hurler regularly tops 92. It was with added muscle that he increased his velocity and raised his profile in the game. “Strength has always been one of main qualities,” says Sharp, who plays for Indiana University and is with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer. “Being strong and explosive has helped me develop as a pitcher.” Born and raised in Hamilton County, Ind., Sharp began school in the Hamilton Heights system before moving to Noblesville early in his elementary years. He played baseball for three seasons at Noblesville High School and finished up his prep career at University High in nearby Carmel, Ind., where he helped the Chris Estep-coached Trailblazers to the 2019 IHSAA Class 1A state championship with 17 strikeouts in the title game against Washington Township. A rec ball player when his family lived in Cicero, Sharp began taking lessons from Estep at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield at 9 and played for the travel organization led by Estep — the Indiana Mustangs — from 9U through the end of high school. It was at Noblesville that Sharp was introduced to serious strength and conditioning training by former Butler University pitcher Brian Clarke. Sharp credits Clarke not only for teaching him about weightlifting but the mental side, too. The Millers head S&C coordinator taught his athletes about E + R = O (Event plus Response equals Outcome). “Outcome doesn’t determine how you perform,” says Sharp. “It’s something I have taken with me throughout my career. It’s really helped. “The process is what’s most important. You can’t control the outcome.” Sharp has learned to pitch with a short memory and keep his composure even in the tightest jams. He doesn’t let it bother him when opponents and fans are chirping and he’s given up a big hit or multiple runs. “There’s nothing you can do about it now,” says Sharp. “You’ve got to go and execute the next pitch.” Sharp, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, redshirted as an IU freshman in 2020. In his two seasons with the Jeff Mercer-coached Hoosiers, he is 3-8 with a 5.86 earned run average in 34 appearances (33 as a reliever). In 66 innings, he has 90 strikeouts and 34 walks. All four of his saves came in 2022. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm angle, Sharp uses a four-seam fastball, “spike” curveball, slider and “circle” change-up. “My four-seamer — on a good day — is sitting about 92 to 94 and touching 95,” says Sharp. “I got it up to 97. “My curveball is 12-to-6. My slider has horizontal movement and is completely different than my curveball. It breaks away from righties and and into lefties. My change-up has a little big of tail, drop and depth to it. “Developing four-pitch mix, the goal in my mind is to be a starter. But whatever the team needs me to do to win I’m going to do that.” While in Bloomington, Sharp has worked with two pitching coaches — Justin Parker and Dustin Glant. “(Parker) is a really good mental coach,” says Sharp of the coach now at the University of South Carolina. “He’s very good at getting you prepared to compete and teaches pitchers how to be explosive off the mound. He’s one of the reasons I got a velocity jump in college (coming throwing 89 to 92 mph and touching 93 in the first couple bullpens). “(Current Indiana pitching coach Glant) is kind of like a pitching guru. He knows his stuff and is a really smart guy. He was with the Yankees and learned a lot of analytical stuff. He has brought that to IU. He helped me develop my slider. It’s become on of my main swing-and-miss pitches.” The CCBL season is in his second week. Sharp has pitched four innings. “There’s a really cool atmosphere here,” says Sharp. “We have one ‘off’ day a week. We use those to relax. Baseball can take a toll on your body.” While there has been no youth camps yet, Sharp says he enjoys sharing his baseball knowledge with youngsters and sees coaching in his future. Sharp did not play baseball in the summer of 2019. He went to IU, took summer classes and became familiar with the campus and the weight room there. He played with and competed against friends in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield in 2020. Last summer, Sharp was with the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Winnipesaukee Muskrats. A Sports Marketing and Management major, Sharp has two more semesters to complete his degree. Adam and Sophia Sharp have two children — Meme (25) and Reese (21). Adam Sharp is a long-time firefighter in Carmel. Sophia Sharp is a nurse. Meme Sharp-Machado is a Noblesville graduate who was a diver at the University of Pittsburgh.
Dennis Smith has been head baseball coach at Edinburgh (Ind.) High School since the 2019. He already knows a point of emphasis for 2022. “Pitching,” says Smith. “Last year we won one game. In 17 gams, we had 148 walks. “Throwing strikes will be crucial this (coming) year.” Three pitchers — seniors Ian Buchanan and Riley Palmer and sophomore Gabe Bennett — return. Senior Travis Jones and junior Max Blanford are also expected to get a turn on the mound. The 2021-22 school year is the first where Edinburgh athletes are allowed to participate in two sports during the game season. Smith says Blanford will split his time between golf and baseball. Smith, who teaches eighth grade math at Edinburgh, was a Lancers assistant on the staff of Cole Zook in 2013-14 and helped Jason Burke one season prior to taking over the program. A 2003 Edinburgh graduate, middle infielder Smith played for head coach Todd Tatlock as a senior and was a teammate of current Southwestern of Shelbyville coach Chris Ingels (Edinburgh Class of 2002). “I still pick his brain,” says Smith of Tatlock, an Edinburgh alum who was an All-American at Indiana State University. “I still call him or get with him when I can.” An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. Smith says Edinburgh does not plan to start baseball activities until January. “I can’t (practice in the fall),” says Smith, who works at a school with an enrollment around 235 and plenty of baseball players involved in fall sports. “We’ve got to share your kids as much as possible.” Smith says he expects a few players to find the time to play in a Sunday fall baseball league in Columbus. A feeder for the high school program is the Edinburgh Park and Recreation/Babe Ruth League. Edinburgh is a member of the Mid-Hoosier Conference (with Hauser, Morristown, North Decatur, South Decatur,Southwestern of Shelbyville and Waldron). In 2021, the Lancers were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Lutheran, Morristown, Southwestern of Shelbyville and Waldron. Edinburgh has won four sectional titles — the last in 2017. Lancer Field at Steve Hollenbeck Sports Complex is the home diamond for Edinburgh baseball. Plans call for a new mound to be installed next week. “We hope to put in four new loads of dirt in the infield,” says Smith. Chris Hoffman and Coltan Henderson are assistant coaches. Smith says another may be added to the staff. Dennis and wife Hannah have three children — daughters Reese (9) and Reagan (6) and son Ryan (who turns 2 in November). When he’s not teaching or coaching, Dennis likes to compete in bass fishing tournaments.
“I feel really lucky,” says Coy, who is heading into his first season as head coach at Waldron (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School in Shelby County. “There are a lot of guys I can seek council from all over the place.
“They want baseball to be great in this state. They’ll give you any piece of advice you need and do anything to grow the game.”
Coy was going to be an assistant to Doug Burcham before the 2020 season was called off because the COVID-19 pandemic.
Southwestern is No. 3 and Hauser No. 6 in the 1A preseason rankings and Knightstown is receiving votes in 2A.
With 16 players — up from the usual 11 or 12 — Coy says the Mohawks will play only a varsity schedule this spring.
Coy’s 2021 assistants are all Waldron graduates — Cam Wells (Class of 2018), Nate Bernard (2019) and Cole Chappelow (2020).
The 2020-21 school year is Coy’s second in Shelby Eastern Schools (which includes Waldron and Morristown) where he teaches U.S. History, Psychology and Sociology. At various times, he educates sixth through 12th graders.
Coy has also been an assistant boys basketball coach on the Waldron staff of Beau Scott.
Waldron Junior-Senior serves the communities of Waldron, Geneva, St. Paul and some students outside Shelbyville.
“I’ve had a nice little gambit to learn from and coach under,” says Coy. “(Carlton) is a bright young coach. He eats it up.
“They do it differently, but (Cosgray) and (Froedge) were awesome mentors for me.”
Carlton helped Coy upgrade the infield at Waldron’s on-campus field.
There are five high schools in Shelby County — Waldron, Morristown, Shelbyville, Southwestern (Shelbyville) and Triton Central. Coy and Carlton would like to see a county league for younger players with teams feeding their respective schools.
A 2002 graduate of Western Boone Junior-Senior High School in Thorntown, Ind., Coy played for Stars head coach Don Jackson and pitching coach Rob Ebert (who also coached him during the summer). His father, Doug Coy, was also a WEBO assistant.
Jackson had a passion for baseball and expected his players to respect the game by playing hard.
Ebert taught Coy how to “turn the ball over” to get it to move in on a right-handed batter.
“If we can pitch inside I think we’ll have a lot of success at Waldron for sure,” says Coy.
Before arm issues cropped up, right-hander Coy pitched two seasons at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., where Tom Flynn was the Little Giants head coach and Cory Stevens the pitching coach.
Flynn was the Old School, in-your-face type of coach.
“He’d get the most out of you,” says Coy. “He genuinely cared for his players.”
Stevens, who is now athletic director at Jennings County High School in North Vernon, Ind., let Coy know the importance of controlled movement and pitching backwards (throwing breaking balls and change-ups in counts were the hitter is usually looking for a fastball — 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-1 and 3-2).
“The change-up is most underutilized pitch in all of baseball,” says Coy. “It’s all the grip and takes time to develop. Kids don’t have the patience.
“They want instant gratification.”
Coy admires how Hall of Famer Greg Maddux — while not throwing in the upper 90’s — was able to craftily pin-point his pitches on the inside and outside corners of the plate and get lots of movement.
Tommy and Stacey Coy (a 2004 Waldron alum who was a senior in the pep band at the time the Mohawks went 27-0 and won the IHSAA Class 1A boys basketball state championship) have two sons — Kellen (9) and Karsten (7). The boys will have birthdays two days apart in May — Kellen on the 12th and Karsten the 14th.
Through hills and valleys, the right-handed pitcher persisted and persevered until he finally stood on a major league mound at 28 and its those kind of lessons he passes along to the next generation with his baseball/softball business — Demand Command.
McClellan, who stands 6-foot-5, earned three letters at Indiana University (1998, 1999 and 2000). He pitched in 41 games, starting 22 with five complete games and one save. In 159 1/3 innings, he posted 111 strikeouts and a 4.58 earned run average while playing for Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan — a man he credits as much for what he did in stressing education as what he did between the white lines.
Long before that McClellan started giving back. He started the Zach McClellan School of Pitching in Bloomington, Ind., in 2002.
Zach and future wife Sarah met at IU. She is from nearby Ellettsville, Ind., and a graduate of Edgewood High School.
During his pro off-seasons, Zach was a student teacher during the day and gave lessons at night during his off-season.
With the growth of the business, McClellan began looking for a new name and a suggestion came from one of his pupils who noted how he was constantly telling them, “Don’t just accept control, demand command.”
McClellan says the difference between control and command is that with control you can throw to a general area and command is being able to execute your pitches to the catcher.
The two main aspects of pitching as McClellan sees them are how hard you throw and can you locate it. In other words: Velocity and command.
“I try to marry those two things,” says McClellan, who notes that location becomes very important when it comes to getting good hitters out.
Believing that training should be fun and challenging, McClellan began getting his young pitchers to play H-O-R-S-E baseball style.
While in the basketball version, a player has to replicate a made shot or take a letter, McClellan’s baseball variation requires one pitcher to execute a pitch — say a fastball to the outside corner — and have the next one up replicate that or take a letter.
The first Demand Command T-shirts McClellan ever had made asked: “Can you play H-O-R-S-E on the mound?”
“It was an inside joke between the instructed kids, myself and their parents,” says McClellan. “People would ask the question about what it meant.
“We were doing something kind of unique and kids were actually executing pitches. What I’ve noticed through the years is that if they have to call the pitch, it’s even better. Now they’re not just throwing a ball in the generally vicinity.”
McClellan never wants training to be drudgery for his players.
“If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it becomes more of a job,” says McClellan. “It’s not a job, it’s an opportunity. It’s fun. If you’re going to come to me it’s not going to feel like work.
“You have to make sure that the kids are enjoying what they’re doing, but learning at the same time.”
Since he began offering instruction, McClellan has preferred small-group lessons of three of four players.
“I say make sure kids aren’t just doing solo private lessons,” says McClellan. “A lot of parents want their kids to work one-on-one with a coach, but when they go on a field they have eight other teammates.
“At the end of the day there’s nobody behind the mound holding your hand and telling you how to correct yourself in a game. You have to have a feel on the adjustments you’re making.”
Every now and then, McClellan likes to match 17-year-old prospect with an 8-year-old learning how to pitch.
“The 17-year-old learns how to teach,” says McClellan. “The more you learn how to teach the better you get at your craft.
“(The teen is) learning how other people receive the information which makes them more receptive of the information.”
Now that he has been at it this long, another McClellan goal is coming to fruition.
“I’ve always wanted to create a community of baseball players that became future leaders,” says McClellan. “Kids that played for me or took lessons from me are now coming back to be coaches for me.”
Matt McClellan played at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., and pitched in the Toronto Blue Jays organization (Toronto selected the right-hander in the seventh round of the 1997 MLB Draft) and for the independent Newark (N.J.) Bears and Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones.
The DC website states the mission: “Demand Command was built on the principles that baseball and softball are teaching mechanisms for more than just the games.
Baseball and Softball have many life lessons within the games. Some examples are leadership, hard work, determination, discipline, working together with many types of people, dealing with success and failure and good character.
“The goal is to teach people the value of Demand Command life principles through baseball and softball. Demand Command stands for much more than commanding pitches or at bats. Demand Command is a way of life.”
Numerous DC alums have gone on to college and pro baseball. Among them is Dylan Stutsman, who pitched at the University of Indianapolis and then pitched for the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers.
Former Texas Rangers draft pick Renton Poole is now a senior pitcher at Indiana University Kokomo.
Zach and Sarah McClellan live in Columbus and have three athletic daughters — Mia (14), Miley (12) and Emery (10).
The McClellan brothers — Jeff (46), Matt (44) and Zach (42 on Nov. 25) — are the offspring of former college athletes.
Father Dave a basketball player at the University of Michigan and Mother Diane a track and field athlete at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.
Jeff played baseball at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.
Zach’s nephew, Sebastian McClellan, is a freshman basketball guard at Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Mich. Niece Mallory McClellan recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Fordham University in New York.
The two maintained a relationship and Cheek came back to town as an assistant to head coach Howard at Indiana University Kokomo. The 2021 season will be his third with the Cougars.
“I love it,” says Cheek of working with the energetic Howard. “He will push you day in and day out to be a better leader on or off the field.
“What I enjoy most about him is he gives freedom (to his assistants) as if we were in-charge. I can make the pitching program my own. There is trust my abilities.”
Cheek, 26, is not only IUK’s pitching coach but he leads the program’s academic supervision and community service and helps with camps.
At pitching coach, he looks for aggressiveness and competitiveness.
“What we strive to do is attack hitters,” says Cheek. “We recruit a lot of guys who are athletes that go out and compete. They piece it together inning by inning and put up zeros.”
Cheek wants his hurlers to trust their defense.
“We have plenty of gold glovers on the field so pound the zone,” says Cheek. “Execution is big for us.”
Knowing that not all pitchers are the same, Cheek looks to get each one to identify what makes them successful.
“Every guy is going to have different pitches and different sequences that they throw,” says Cheek, who knows some will around 90 mph with their fastball while others will have to pitch backwards, starting with a breaking ball and spotting their fastball.
“It’s about letting them know their success and know what they have to bring to the table,” says Cheek. “When they take pride int he role they have that’s where you start to see success.”
About half way through fall practice, IUK pitchers (a group that includes Ryan’s brother, Kacey Cheek) are currently in COVID-19 quarantine.
“It’s been a tough fall,” says Cheek. “It make guys see the picture of how they approach each day with an appreciation and a full passion for the game.”
That can be said of the whole squad, which includes returning college players who had their spring season cut short and incoming freshmen who had their senior high school seasons canceled.
Cheek and the other IUK coaches encourage them to respect the game but also have passion.
“Show up with a chip on their shoulder,” says Cheek. “Keep a goal in mind each day and don’t let a day pass.”
Because of the pandemic, the NAIA has granted an extra year of eligibility to those who want to use it.
Among those back to lead the Cougars are right-handed pitcher Renton Poole (at Bloomington High School South graduate who was selected in the 28th round of the 2018 Major League First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers but opted to stay in college) and infielder Austin Weiler.
While being aware of contact tracing, IUK baseball coaches work to separate players on the field and in the weight room. With pitchers away, there are a number of machine scrimmages.
“We’ll have developmental work and one-on-one work when pitchers come back,” says Cheek.
As an academic supervisor, Cheek makes sure players are keeping up their grades up. He stays in-touch with professors and sets study table hours.
“They’re coming to IUK to get an IU degree and play baseball,” says Cheek. “The goal is to get these guys to where they want to go in life.
“My goal is to make sure they’re reaching their goals in the classroom.”
IUK students are currently taking a hybrid of in-person and online classes. After Thanksgiving to the end of the semester that will be all online.
While COVID-19 regulations and protocols has limited what players can do at the moment, there was plenty of community service with local groups last fall. Cheek says that each team member did up to 25 hours in the fall while meeting Kokomo know they care.
Mitch Hannahs was the head coach and Jordan Tiegs the pitching coach at ISU.
Cheek went to youth camps run by Hannahs when the latter was coaching at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.
“He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played under,” says Cheek of Hannahs. “He understands the game and knows how to compete.
“He helped me grow as a player and a person.”
Tiegs, who is now a coach in the Rangers organization, had an impact on Cheek.
“He was really smart and knew how to develop guys,” says Cheek of Tiegs. “He really sparked my interest about what a routine meant and entailed — throwing everyday, arm health, your body moving correctly and competing at a high level.”
Cheek appreciates his time with Vincennes head coach Chris Barney.
“He knew the game,” says Cheek of Barney. “He was a little Old School, but I loved it.”
The term “JUCO bandit” is used in baseball circles these days. Cheek tells what it means to him.
“They are guys who are hard-nosed and a little blue collar,” says Cheek. “It was a really good fit for myself to go junior college route. I learned a lot about myself — who I am as a person and player.”
Without the time restrictions of the NCAA and NAIA, junior college players have the chance to spend plenty of time working on their craft.
“We had a fall and spring season and a lot of competition,” says Cheek. “You’d get out of class and then be at the field for six hours at a time.
“We learned what ‘no off days’ meant,” says Cheek. “You didn’t get many.”
Cheek grew up in Oblong, which is Crawford County about 20 miles from the Indiana line and Sullivan County, Indiana.
The 2012 OHS graduate played golf for coach Jason Hartke, basketball for coach Brent Harper and baseball for coach Dave Miller.
Richard and Kelly Cheek have three children — Ryan, Kacey (20) and Lincoln Trail College freshman Katie (18).
The ninth-year GC assistant has certain things for pitchers to do six days a week while they each are encouraged to find what works best for them.
These are college athletes. It’s no cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all system.
“A lot of these kids when they get here never really focused on pitching,” says Grubbs. “If they were at a school where they played multiple positions they might play shortstop, come in and pitch and the next day they’re back at shortstop.
“One of our outfielders — a freshmen — said he never thought of himself as a pitcher through he was the No. 1 at his school. Here, you’ve got to put a lot more emphasis on it if you want to get better at it.”
Having an abundance of quality arms has long been important when playing a 55-game NAIA schedule. But with the Crossroads League going to 36 conference games and Friday and Saturday doubleheaders, it has taken on even more significance for the Maple Leafs.
“You have a really good chance of getting on the field as a pitcher. We need pitching,” says Grubbs. “With this many innings, there’s going to be opportunities.”
Grubbs spells out his points of emphasis.
“What we’re big on the most is being able to attack hitters, have command and be able to throw secondary pitches for strikes,” says Grubbs. “We’re pretty successful with that compared to some other programs.
“A lot of times, we’ll pitch backwards to teams. We’ll always work off our fastball. But you’ve got to be able to mix speeds and change locations.”
In 2019, the GC staff set a school record for strikeouts (345). In the past four seasons, the top four team earned run averages in Goshen’s DakStats-era history have been posted.
“We’d like to pitch to weak contact at times, too,” says Grubbs, recognizing that strikeouts tend to raise the pitch count. “We have a nice core of veterans back that are going to be able to help us (in 2021).”
Now in the sixth of seven fall practice weeks, the Maple Leafs are looking to get better even as the COVID-19 pandemic took away or shortened the 2020 spring and summer seasons.
Goshen was 7-11 overall and 2-1 in the Crossroads and on a two-game win streak when the season ended soon after a March 7 doubleheader sweep of visiting Taylor.
Newcomers and veterans are getting roughly the same amount of playing time in intrasquad games so the coaching staff can see what the players can do.
“We try to even up teams so they get a fair crack at it,” says Grubbs. “They have an opportunity.”
In a typical non-pandemic year, Goshen would be playing outside competition in the fall. Not so in 2020.
“We’re getting a lot of reps against each other,” says Grubbs. “Some nights we have to grind through it a little bit.”
The Maple Leaf World Series — Purple vs. Black — is slated for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
Right now, Childers is with his wife Amber and family at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis while Wellenreiter and Grubbs run the team.
“Alex is the type of coach that has given us so much responsibility and given us the reins to lead our components of the team,” says Grubbs. “He gives us that freedom to coach.”
During the season, Grubbs helps Childers with in-game decision-making and also handles much of GC’s recruiting.
The Leafs roster includes players from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. But it also features those from California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada and Texas plus Alberta in Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Once the pandemic hit, there was a slow start to recruiting for the 2021 class. But with the help of the admissions office, virtual visits soon became the norm.
“These were guys we’d already done research on,” says Grubbs. “We’d seen videos and texted back and forth. We had an idea of who they are and talked with their coaches.”
Following the school’s protocol and precautions, there was one short recruiting trip to Michigan in the summer. In most years, Grubbs would log many miles in pursuit of players.
Grubbs grew up just outside Bourbon, Ind., and graduated from Triton Junior/Senior High School in 1998. The Trojans won the old Northern State Conference title in 1997 and were perennial NSC contenders.
Eric Stults, who went on to star at Crossroads League member Bethel College (now Bethel University) and pitch in the big leagues, lived just a couple of miles away. In Justin’s final high school game — left-hander Stults hurled Argos to a 3-2 victory over Triton.
Landon Grubbs — Justin’s brother — was the starting right fielder and clean-up hitter on Triton’s 2001 IHSAA Class 1A state championship team.
Both Grubbs brothers were coached by Jim Shively.
“He got the best out of his players,” says Grubbs of Shively. “He had a lot of enthusiasm. He taught guys how to hit. I never knew how to hit until I got (to high school). I was also more of a pitcher type who hit at the bottom of the order.”
Grubbs ended up in the No. 2 hole on a squad featuring Kyle Gould (who is now the head baseball coach at athletic director at Crossroads League member Taylor University).
On the mound, Grubbs was 15-4 and a two-time all-NSC selection. He also played football and was academic all-state in 1997.
Grubbs was relief on the baseball team at Indiana Wesleyan University. Mark DeMichael was then head coach of the Wildcats. He learned lessons of pitching and spirituality from IWU pitching coach Mike Burchette.
“He talked about the side work and what a pitching program really looks like,” says Grubbs of Burchette. “He had a really good Christian twist to everything and would really lead us spiritually.”
After a couple years, Grubbs decided to begin his coaching career while working toward a Indiana Wesleyan degree he earned in 2002 (he got a masters in Administration of Physical Education and Sport).
Grubbs then became varsity assistant and pitching coach to head coach Steve Shugart at Madison-Grant Junior/Senior High School in Fairmount, Ind. The Argylls regularly won 20 games as season and were state-ranked in Class 2A. M-G won a Central Indiana Conference championship.
After that, Justin and wife Emily (who also went to Triton and Indiana Wesleyan), opted to move closer to home to start a family (their daughters are Eliana and Maycee).
The couple, married since 2004, settled in Bremen, Ind., and Justin took a job as a math teacher and assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. He was the varsity assistant for the Redskins (now RedHawks) for five years.
Grubbs continues to teach at Goshen and coach at Goshen College. When deciding whether to take the college job, Grubbs consulted with former GHS teacher and coach and GC coach DeVon Hoffman.
He also talked with GHS principal Barry Younghans, who makes it possible for him to teach and get to college games — sometimes the second half of a doubleheader.
“Alex is very flexible as a coach,” says Grubbs. “He’s even said there are times that I need you even more in practice than I do at the games because that’s where all of our work is put in and it’s just performance at the game.
“I’m thankful I’m around people that are really good people to work for at the high school and here at the college.”
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
Chris Marx prides himself on his versatility as a college baseball coach.
The Evansville, Ind., native has been in charge of hitters and — more recently — he has led pitchers.
“It was a seamless transition,” says Marx. “Hitting and pitching are extremely similar. Working from the ground up, you’re trying capture the most energy in your pitch or swing.”
The way Marx sees it, hitters and pitchers are both rotational athletes.
Marx, a graduate of Mater Dei High School (2003) and the University of Southern Indiana (bachelor’s degree in 2008 and master’s in 2010) in Evansville, was hired as the pitching coach at Purdue University in West Lafayette, bringing wife Niki (a Mater Dei graduate) and sons Clayton (5) and Maddox (3) back to Indiana. The Boilermakers were 7-7 when the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic brought the 2020 season to a premature end.
Marx asks his pitchers to establish some feel and command in the strike zone and develop an efficient delivery.
He also has them go through a physical assessment to see if the athletes can get into the necessary positions. They are checked for hip, ankle and T-Spine mobility as well as core stability.
When it comes to the motion, it’s important to “disassociate the hips from the shoulders.”
“We try to get the guys to feel the kinetic chain from the ground up,” says Marx. “We’re getting our lower half out of the way.
“We want to get to a hinge position (basic deadlift position where our butt is behind our heel). We want to sit back as opposed to sit down.”
The aim is for pitchers to get our hand to move toward the catcher’s glove and our target for as long as possible.
Marx shared a Tweet from New York Mets right-hander Marcus Stroman that sums up the desired approach: “For my young ones asking me about mechanics. This is the position I try to master. I feel unbelievably strong here. Ribs down, core engaged and glutes turned on. Upper body relaxed. Opposite of max effort. I want to be effortless. My arm is just along for the ride!”
Says Marx, “We say that just about everyday — ‘hips lead the hand’ or ‘arm just along for the ride.’
“This is what we want them to feel in their catch play and, ultimately, getting on the mound.”
Basic movements or check points that Marx stresses include getting to the top of the leg lift, the hinge position, getting the lower half to lead and staying closed on top.
When Purdue was in action, pitchers had two velocity days a week — one live and one bullpen. They threw medicine balls and work on creating a consistent delivery.
They were asked to go through their motion six or seven days a week to create muscle memory.
“We want to do it early,” says Marx. “We are dealing with rotational athletes that are sitting in class all day and not rotating. We want to wake up those muscles as soon as they get to the field. We want to set a really good movement pattern before we pick up a baseball.
“Hopefully we recognize when we’re outside that muscle memory and can make one-pitch adjustments to get back into the zone.”
On the mental side, pitchers were encouraged to find an aggressive, consistent thought process and to set their focus.
“We want to own our routines,” says Marx. “We use our breath to trigger our last thought. It helps us choose our last thought before we deliver our pitch.”
Positive self talk goes along with routines.
“Confidence is probably your most important thing when you’re out there standing on the mound,” says Marx. “We get into a lot of stressful situations. We want to get to the peak state of mind so our body is doing what it’s trained to do. We don’t have to think about anything, we can just compete and enjoy the moment.”
Since the shutdown, coaches have been getting players to stay on top of their academics while also reflecting the season and looking ahead to the summer and fall. While there are no currently games to attend, Marx says coaches have been looking at potential recruits.
Chris Marx, an Evansville, Ind., native, was hired as an assistant baseball coach at Purdue University in the summer of 2019. He has been in charge of the Boilermakers pitchers. (Purdue University Photo)
The elder Hasler talked about the delivery and his belief in the power of long toss.
Hasler broke down pitching deliveries (some from the stretch and some from the wind-up).
“The best deliveries belong to starters in the big leagues,” says Hasler. “Relievers can get a little shaky.
“Relievers are only responsible for 15 to 30 pitches. Starters are responsible for 110 or 120. You’ve got to have good delivery to do that over and over again.”
From the stretch, White Sox right-handed reliever Jimmy Cordero begins with his feet shoulder width apart with most of his weight on his back leg.
“When he’s ready to go, all he’s going to have to do is transfer the rest of the 30 percent that’s on his front leg to his back leg and get to a balance position,” says Hasler. “This the simplest thing Jimmy can do. I can lift high. I can lift low. I can slide-step from this position.”
Hasler says that if a pitcher sets up too wide it takes an effort to get back over the rubber.
White Sox left-handed reliever Aaron Bummer’s delivery to very simple.
“He just lifts and goes,” says Hasler. “He comes set with feet and toes in line and slightly closed and more weight on the back leg.”
White Sox righty reliever Evan Marshall balances over the rubber and slightly rotates his hips while lifting his front leg.
“He’s in an athletic position,” says Hasler. “You’re not athletic with your feet and legs straight and your knees locked out.
“Eyes on target start-to-finish.”
The majority of major league pitchers do these things in their own way. Hasler says you can always find someone who’s different but those are the outliers.
“You want to make the guys that are good the rule,” says Hasler. “How high (Marshall) lifts (the front leg) is up to him. He has slide-step. He has a shorter one and has one with nobody on (the bases).
“Just as long as you get back to balance.”
Then Cordero was shown going toward the plate and in the process of separation.
“When your leg goes and your knees separate, your hands have to separate,” says Hasler. “They can’t be late. I’m not going to be on-time. My hand’s not going to catch up.
“He’s going to ride down the mound in a powerful position.”
Showing a photo of Max Scherzer, Hasler notes how the Washington National right-handed starter uses his lower half.
“He’s into his legs,” says Hasler. “The back leg is the vehicle to get you to where you want to go.
“I want all my energy, all my momentum, all my forces going (straight toward the plate).
“You’re using your glues and your hamstrings. You’re not really uses your quads.”
Houston Astros right-handed starter Justin Verlander is another pitcher who really gets into his legs and glutes and rides down the mound in a power position.
White Sox righty starter Lucas Giolito uses his hamstrings and glutes as does Los Angeles Dodgers left-handed starter Clayton Kershaw — the latter sitting lower than most.
Hasler says Giolito has one of the better riding four-seam fastballs and the correct way to grip it is across the four seams with the horseshoe pointing out (longer part of the finger over the longest part of the seams).
“It’s going to give you the most-efficient spin and the best ride,” says Hasler. “If that’s what you’re looking for.”
Righty closer Alex Colome gets into a powerful position with a slight tilt of the shoulders in his delivery.
Hasler says all pitchers, infielders and outfielders (catchers are a little different) have to step to where they throw.
“Being in-line is really important,” says Hasler.
Pitchers work back and front.
“I got over the rubber,” says Hasler. “Small turn. Upper half led. Lower half stayed back. I got into my legs. I’m going to the plate. I’m creating this power position. I’ve created created a little bit of tilt back with my shoulders.
“Now I’m going to work back to front, north to south, top top to bottom — anything you want to call it. I’m working (toward the plate).”
Hasler says pitchers who have a lower arm slot — like Boston Red Sox lefty starter Chris Sale — set their angle with their upper body.
In showing White Sox righty starter Dylan Cease and his “spike” curveball, Hasler noted that the wrist has to be a little bit stiff.
“You can’t be floppy over lazy with it,” says Hasler. “Dylan has spin the ball from 1-to-7 (o’clock). Nobody spins it 12-to-6. No one has an axis of 6 o’clock.”
For those without technology, Hasler says the best way to see if a player is spinning the ball the right way is play catch with them.
To learn to throw a curve, pitchers must learn to feel and spin the ball.
Hasler is a long toss advocate.
“Long toss is one of the most underrated and underused things out there,” says Hasler. “It’s a huge tool for kids.
“It can help arm strength. It will help you attain the best velocity you can attain. I’m not going to tell that it’s going increase velocity. It’ll give you the best chance to throw as hard as you can.
“It’s going to help you stay healthy.”
A problem that Hasler observes when the White Sox select a college player in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is their lack of throwing on non-game days.
“They tell me they were a Friday night starter in college,” says Hasler. “What did you do Saturday? Nothing. My arm’s sore. What did you do Sunday? Nothing. We didn’t have practice. What did you do Monday. Nothing. We had an off-day.
“He’s pitching Friday and not playing catch Saturday, Sunday or Monday. That’s a mistake.
“You need to play catch. You need to use it to keep it going.
“If you’re hurt then don’t (play catch). If you’re just a little sore then do (play catch). You have to understand the difference between soreness and being hurt.”
Hasler showed a long toss sessions between Giolito and White Sox righty starter Reynaldo Lopez.
“(Lopez) doesn’t start crow-hopping until he gets about 120 or 150 feet away,” says Hasler. Lopey long tosses at about 220 feet and he can do it because he’s strong.
“He’s on his front leg. There’s no exiting stage left or stage right. When we’re playing long toss, my misses can be up. But my misses can’t be side-to-side.
“When I miss right or left the ball is screaming at me that something’s wrong.”
Giolito crow-hops from 90 feet and back. But nothing comes “out of the hallway” (no throws would hit the imaginary walls).
“His first step is pretty aggressive and he’s going in the direction I want to go,” says Hasler. “If my first step is small, weak and little then what’s my second step going to be?”
The tone is set for long toss and as the thrower moves back, the tone and tempo picks up.
“Pitching and long toss are violent acts, but they’re done under control,” says Hasler.
Cubbies Coaches Club meets at 6 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month during the baseball preseason. To learn more, call (574) 404-3636 or email email@example.com.
South Bend’s Curt Hasler is the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. He spoke at the Jan. 20, 2020 South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (Chicago White Sox Photo)
Tom Roy has been a coach at the college and high school level and has learned from big leaguers.
He was the first baseball coach at Tippecanoe Valley High School in Akron, Ind., then established Unlimited Potential Inc., and took Major League Baseball players on missions trips around the world, teaching baseball and sharing stories of faith.
He’s also been a pitcher in the San Francisco Giants system and scouted for the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres.
Pro baseball scouts look at identification, projection and probability.
“If that’s the highest level, what do I do to get them there?,” says Roy, who talked primarily about pitching at the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.
“Pitching is defense,” says Roy. “Nothing happens until you throw the ball.”
Pitching consists of the physical (weights, swimming, banding, flexiblity, hand and forearm development) and the mental side.
“To be a complete pitcher, you need both,” says Roy. “You should be a student of the game so nothing catches you off-guard.”
Roy wants his pitchers to be competitive and not timid.
“Don’t be milquetoast,” says Roy. “Be a bulldog.”
Former big league pitcher Scott Sanderson comes to Roy’s mind when he thinks of a pitcher who demands the ball.
“You can teach them that,” says Roy. “You can give them a sense of purpose.”
That kind of competitor will be stone-faced and never change expressions on the mound.
They will be able to handle mistakes by their teammates and big offensive innings by the opponent.
The will overcome the elements (rain, heat etc.) and make no excuses.
“(Baseball) I.Q. is huge,” says Roy. “What’s his make-up?
“You as a pitcher better be able to take it when you’re blamed. We’re talking about mental attitude and this while idea of how you get mentally prepared and how do you set up hitters.”
Roy endorses what he calls the “AXIS” method.
In throwing an A to a right-handed batter, the first pitch is a low outside strike.
“We always want to get the first pitch a strike,” says Roy. “We always wanted the guys to have the ball in play within four pitches. In other words, let the defense play a little bit.
“But there are situations where you need to strike guys out.”
The second pitch is up at the top of the A.
“How do you get guys out who are really, really strong in the launch angle?,” says Roy. “Elevate. That ball is really tempting.”
The third pitch is low and inside.
The fourth pitch is under the hands.
The fifth pitch is to the other side and completes the A.
“It gives your pitcher intentionality and competition to make them the bulldog you want them to be,” says Roy.
As a pitching coach, Roy stood between the bullpen mounds and looked for location, flexibility and mechanics while pitches are charted.
“I’m feeling and listening for leadership and attitude,” says Roy. “They miss the first one. You’re there to say, ‘OK. Get your head back in the game.’
“You set a high standard of mental preparation. This counts.”
Another way to attack the hitter would be low and outside, high and inside, high and outside and low and inside, creating an X.
“Setting up hitters is changing speed, location and climbing the ladder — inside or outside,” says Roy of forming the I. “All of this building confidence and the mental side of this game.”
Having a purpose with every strike, the S is formed by a low outside pitch followed by deliveries that are low and inside, under the hands, away, high and outside and high and inside.
Roy says as pitchers begin to learn how to locate their pitches, they should use fastballs and then blend in other pitches as they begin to understand things like release point.
“It’s more than throwing the ball hard,” says Roy. “It’s more than changing speeds. It’s having a purpose and a plan and confidence that you can hit those spots.
“Most of the time as coaches we don’t give that kind of accountability.”
In setting up hitters, Roy looks for his pitchers to have the proper arm extension and to pay attention to the hitters’ feet and hands.
“If the back foot is pointing toward the catcher, there’s no way he’s going to be able to get around on a good fastball,” says Roy. “Hitters give away their weaknesses.
“It’s a difference maker. Start taking this stuff seriously. Talk about having purpose.”
Roy encourages coaches and players to embrace the process.
“You’ve got to break that fear,” says Roy. “Most people are afraid to fail. You have to teach them there’s no such thing really as failure. You’re learning from everything.
“You demand a lot, but you don’t demean them.”
Tom Roy spoke to the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics attendees on pitching with a purpose.