Tag Archives: Purdue University

Loggins believes in ’natural movements’ for young ballplayers

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Josh Loggins grew up in Tippecanoe County, Ind., his baseball position was well-established.

Young Josh was a shortstop.

When Loggins reached the eighth grade at Battle Ground Middle School he met John O’Maley, the head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette.

O’Maley told Loggins that he would be a catcher in his program.

Loggins resisted at first, but came to excel behind the plate with the Harrison Raiders. 

On March 11, 1995 — the eve of the baseball season — O’Maley passed away at 46 and six Harrison seniors — Loggins, Nate Linder, Brad Pitts, Brad Sherry, Dusty Sims and Jimmy Taylor — served as pall bearers. The players wore No. 42 patches on their uniforms all season as a tribute to O’Maley.

Jerry Galema became Harrison’s head coach and the team went on to go 34-2 and win the 1995 state championship, besting Fort Wayne Concordia 3-1 in the title game.

“He was passionate about doing the right thing,” says Loggins of Galema, who is now the school’s athletic director. “He was a very detailed, very organized coach and could not have been a better person.”

Future big leaguers Todd Dunwoody (Class of 1993), Erik Sabel (Class of 1993) and Eric Bruntlett (Class of 1996) were Loggins teammates at Harrison.

Loggins was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-stater and IHSBCA North All-Star as a senior catcher. It was as a backstop that he was selected in the seventh round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Instead of going pro out of high school, Loggins went to Purdue University then transferred to the University of Kentucky and played for Wildcats head coach Keith Madison.

The UK coach had quite an impact on Loggins.

“I couldn’t say this more — and I get a little choked up — he’s the best individual I was ever introduced to,” says Loggins of Madison. “He is a genuine individual. It’s how he carries himself.

“He taught us how to be men. Coach Madison took me in where I was struggling to find myself. He helped me immensely. He got me back to confidence and kept me on a path to professional baseball. He’s a very good man.”

At Kentucky, Loggins would start at catcher in midweek games and in Friday and Saturday contests during Southeastern Conference series and be in right field in Sunday.

The righty swinger hit .384 with 15 home runs, five triples, 20 doubles, 63 runs batted in and six stolen bases in 57 games in 1998.

Loggins comes from a baseball family. He father — Vernon Porter “Mick” Loggins — played in local leagues in Danville, Ill. He became an English professor and poet with the pen name V.P. Loggins.

Kenny Loggins, Josh’s uncle, also pitched in Danville. 

Grandfather Elmer “Buck” Loggins was a pro in Alabama as was his brother who was known as “Black Diamond” Loggins. He was a coal miner who doubled as a ballplayer.

It was as an outfielder that Josh Loggins was picked in the 11th round of the 1998 MLB Draft and was sent to Idaho Falls, where he hit .341 with eight homers, five triples, 20 doubles, 64 RBIs and and eight stolen bases in 71 games.

Loggins played for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards in 1999, hitting .297 with 14 homers, seven triples, 29 doubles, 85 RBIs and and 12 stolen bases in 136 games as the regular right fielder. 

Fort Wayne was managed by Dan Simonds, who served stints at Miami (Ohio) University and Xavier University and associate head coach at Indiana University (2014) before becoming Director of Baseball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Before being with the Wizards he had also been an extra in the movie “Rookie of the Year.”

“Dan was a great guy,” says Loggins. “That was my first experience of what it means to be a professional baseball.

“You no longer call them ‘Coach’; it’s their first name or nickname. You are an equal. You are a professional. (Simonds) was relatable. He was a players’ manager.”

Loggins played professional baseball until 2005. He reached Double-A with the Padres, New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies organizations. 

Parts of 2002 and 2003 were spent with the independent Washington (Pa.) Wind Things. He played for the independent Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers in 2004 and 2005. In both places his manager was Lafayette’s Jeff Isom

As business partners, Loggins, Isom and Dunwoody had a stake in the On Deck Training in Lafayette. Isom runs the facility now with Bobby Bell and Pat Murtaugh as instructors and has a travel ball organization.

Loggins’ average in affiliated Minor League Baseball was .288. He hit .315 in indy ball. 

“Those were the best times I had in professional baseball,” says Loggins of independent ball. “There was no pressure moving up or playing for next year’s contract. You were playing ball and having fun.”

Perhaps Loggins’ best pro season was 2003 in Washington when he hit .331 with 24 homers, five triples, 13 doubles, 72 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 74 games.

“I was a hitter — that’s what kept me around a long time,” says Loggins. “I was pretty consistent though I did not perform as well as a platoon guy. 

“I needed to be in there and keep the routine going and seeing pitches often.”

Loggins struck out over 100 times only once from 1998-2005. In fact, he whiffed 635 times while poking 90 homers, 26 triples and 144 doubles and driving in 468 runs in 2,987 plate appearances. He also swiped 81 bases.

He wound up playing every position except shortstop and pitcher. He also played briefly for Team USA in an international qualifier in Bradenton in 2005.

After his playing days, he spent some time as a Boston Red Sox scout. Registered Investment Advisor is the 43-year-old’s full-time job.

Since the early 1990’s, Loggins has been involved with the Indiana Bulls in one way or another. He played on one of the travel organization’s first teams. This year was his first vice president on the board of directors, lending advice to president Quinn Moore, treasurer Brent Mewhinney, secretary Todd Mewhinney and director of baseball operations Scott French

Loggins will be the Bulls 10U Black head coach for 2021 with sons Hayes (10) and Tagg (who turns 9 in November) on the team.

Without any prompting from their father or mother (McCutcheon High School graduate and former WLFI News 18 anchor Gina Quattrocchi Loggins), both boys became right-handed throwers who hit from the left side. It’s what felt right to them.

“You’ve got to be comfortable to hit,” says Loggins. “The motion has to be natural.

A few years ago, Loggins was in Puerto Rico and talked with former Joliet teammate Gabby Delgado (brother-in-law of Carlos Beltran).

Loggins wanted to know why Latino players were so smooth. Delgado told him that most don’t receive instruction until their teens and do what comes natural to them.

“That kind of stuck with me at the time,” says Loggins. “If you think too much or are coached too much it can take the athleticism away from you. It makes you a mechanical player.

“Sometimes the worse thing you can do is teach too much and not just let the kid play naturally and build on natural movements.”

Hayes (left), Tagg and Gina are the sons and wife of Josh Loggins, a graduate of Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., who went on to play college and professional baseball and now coaches his boys and others with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.
Tagg (left) and Hayes surround father Josh Loggins following a tournament win for the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization. Josh Loggins played for the Bulls in the early 1990’s and went on to Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind, followed by college and pro baseball.

Four pillars propel Purdue Fort Wayne’s Lawvere

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hard work.

Humility.

Empathy.

Kindness.

These are the four pillars that form the foundation for Andrew Lawvere the baseball player and person.

The Purdue Fort Wayne senior utility man from Upland, Ind., explains the characteristics that he’s made a part of his daily habits.

“Hard work — I think we all know what that means,” says Lawvere, a 2017 graduate of Eastbrook High School in Marion, Ind., where he was catcher for North in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. “You have to have a strong drive to obtain goals.

“As a society we need to have more humility. Mistakes are going to be happen in life. We need to be OK with that.

“We need to change our perspective on things and (recognize) if someone is hurting inside (and show empathy).

“We should just be kind to people. Nobody knows what’s going on in people’s life. With COVID-19, a lot of depression going around. I live by these everyday. My parents (Nick and Anne Lawvere) built these in me at a very young age.”

Nick Lawvere is a science teacher at Highland Middle School in Anderson, Ind. Anne Lawvere is Director of Special Education for Eastbrook Community Schools. Older sister Nicole Lawvere (23) was a standout at Eastbrook and a utility infielder at Indiana University, where she is now attending law school.

A three-time Academic Honor Roll and one-time Commissioner’s List of Academic Excellence (2018-19) selection by the Summit League, Andrew Lawvere (21) is on track to graduate in the spring with a major in Accounting and minor in and Management and Marketing

He plans to play summer collegiate ball for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2021 and come back for a bonus season in 2022 while either pursuing another degree or applying for graduate school. After that comes law school. Grandmother Judith Golitko and uncle Matthew Golitko are personal injury lawyers with Golitko & Daly P.C. and Andrew did an internship with the firm in 2018.

“I like helping other people,” says Lawvere. “It goes back to my four pillars.”

Lawvere has appearance in 77 games in three seasons for the PFW Mastodons, including 11 (seven as a starter — six at first base and one as designated hitter) during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. 

The righty swinger hit .300 (9-of-30) with one home run, one double, eight runs batted in and four runs scored. He collected three hits with a homer and drove in three runs Feb. 29 at New Mexico State.

As a right-handed relief pitcher, he made four appearances and went 0-1 while striking out five while walking two in 4 1/3 innings. He fanned three in a 1 2/3-inning stint Feb. 23 at Miami (Ohio).

For his career, Lawvere is hitting .242 (48-of-198) with six homers (including a 2019 grand slam against Alabama State), nine doubles, 29 RBIs and 21 runs. 

After the 2020 season was called off and Lawvere find himself back at home, he decided to take his strength and conditioning up a few notches. He began training with former Purdue and Ball State pitcher Eric Van Matre at Muncie (Ind.) Crossfit at The Arsenal. He was introduced to Olympic-style weightlifting and lost 20 pounds.

“I really took advantage of quarantine,” says Lawvere. “I’m in the best shape of myself. I educated myself nutritionally.”

Injuries had moved Lawvere away from catching, but he can see himself going back behind the plate again.

“I had a talk with Coach (Doug) Schreiber,” says Lawvere. “This year I think I’ll get to strap up the shin guards.

“I’m pretty confident I’m going to get back to my roots. I’ll do whatever benefits the team.”

Schreiber took over the Mastodons program in July 2019 and had an impact on Lawvere.

“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s been around the game for a long time

I’ve really picked his brain lot. He’s an Old School, which I love. He’s a hard-working guy. We understand each other. We are very similar in a lot of ways.

“On a personal level, he makes random phone calls just to check up on me. We just talk about life. He gets it.”

PFW team meetings are filled with discussions tying life situations — like obstacles and adversity — to baseball.

While the Mastodons were on the way to Western Illinois in mid-March when they had to turn around and head back to Fort Wayne after just 15 games, Lawvere said the team was just getting started in 2020.

“We saw a lot of improvement,” says Lawvere. “Schreiber is going to get the culture of the team right.

“As a senior, I’m trying to put my best effort into the culture. I think we’ll have a lot of success (in 2021).”

When Lawvere came to to the Mastodons, Bobby Pierce was head coach. 

“One thing that really sticks out about Coach Pierce is that he understood that people are going to have different ways of thinking,” says Lawvere. “There’s no one right thing about a swing or mechanics.

“He tried to better us as individuals and focused on our strengths.”

Pierce was also receptive when players would reach out.

“I’m always trying to reach my optimal level,” says Lawvere. “I try to get as much information as possible and do what I believe is correct.”

He has been able share baseball knowledge and trade jokes with Mastodons hitting/catchers/outfielders coach Ken Jones.

“I love taking knowledge from (Coach Jones) and using it at different times,” says Lawvere. “We have that open relationship where we can talk.”

IPW has faced challenges since returning to campus this fall. After one practice, the team had to go into a 14-day coronavirus quarantine and returned to the field Sept. 21. All players are on the field but are in pods wearing masks and paying attention to social distancing.

“We’re playing it day-by-day with everything going on,” says Lawvere. “We can’t have another two-week shutdown. We’ve got to set a tone for the Horizon League.”

IPW has moved from the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois) to the Horizon League (with Illinois-Chicago, Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, Wright State and Youngstown State).

“We’ve talked about intangibles and things we can control,” says Lawvere. “If you want this bad you have to do work on your own (more than 20 hours a week of official team activity).”

In a normal setting, the team would do individual work and then team practice in the fall followed by winter workouts, more individual work and holiday break leading up to the spring season.

Lawvere was born in Muncie and grew up in Upland. With many relatives on his father’s side living close, they refer to the area as “Lawvereville.”

After playing coach pitch baseball in Upland, Andrew played travel ball for the Gas City-based Indiana Rebels coached by Tim Young (his son Nolan Young plays at Illinois State), Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits coached by Dwayne Hutchinson (son Dalton Hutchinson played at Taylor University), the Indiana Prospects coached by Drew Kidd and supervised by Todd Nierman and Indiana Bulls coached by Troy Drosche.

Lawvere played four seasons at Eastbrook for former head coach Todd Farr.

“He was very caring,” says Lawvere of Farr. “He wanted me to get recruited. There were times early in my high school career where I was struggling. He believe in me.

“He saw that I worked hard and wanted to get better.”

Andrew Lawvere, a graduate of Eastbrook High School in Marion, Ind., is a senior baseball player at Purdue Fort Wayne. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Wade takes leadership, mental toughness from Kokomo to Purdue

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Wade got the chance to be an athletic leader at a young age.

He was an eighth grader in Kokomo, Ind., and attending football workouts when Kokomo High School head coach Brett Colby let him know the expectations of the program and the community.

“This is your team next year” says Wade, recalling the words Colby said to the varsity Wildkats’ heir apparent at quarterback as a freshman in the fall of 2014. “On our first thud (in practice), I think I stuttered the words and dropped the ball.

“(Colby) told me, ‘you can’t show weakness to your teammates’ and ‘never act like you can’t.’ I took that to heart.”

Wade went on to be a four-year starter and earned the IHSAA Class 5A Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award as Kokomo finished as state runners-up in 2017. He was also a four-year starter at shortstop in baseball for head coach Sean Wade and played three varsity basketball seasons — freshman and sophomore for Matt Moore and senior for Bob Wonnell.

“Coach Swan was positive, but he wasn’t afraid to get on us,” says Wade of his high school baseball experience. “(Swan) trusted us.

“We were an older team with a lot of guys who would go on to Power 5 (college) baseball (including Class of 2018’s Jack Perkins to Louisville and Bayden Root to Ohio State and Class of 2020’s Charez Butcher to Tennessee).”

Wade appreciates Moore for his organization skills and discipline. 

“His scouting reports were next level,” says Wade. “Coach Wonnell won a state tournament (Class 1A at Tindley in 2017). He asked me about playing again (as a senior). He wanted a leader. He helped keep me in shape (Wade was 235 pounds at the end of his senior football season and 216 at the close of the basketball season).”

A combination of physicality, basketball I.Q. gained from having a father as a former Kokomo head coach (2000-05), he played on the front line — even guarding 7-footers.

“Being in the (North Central Conference) as a undersized center is not for the weak-heated.

“I had to mature. I’ve led by by example, pushing guys to get better and motivated to play. I’ve had to have mental toughness. I’ve never been one of the most talented guys on my teams.”

But Wade showed enough talent that he had college offers in football and baseball. He chose the diamond and accepted then-head coach Mark Wasikowski’s invitation to play at Purdue University

“As a freshman coming into a Big Ten program, I had older guys who helped get me going and taught me about work ethic,” says Wade. “He have a lot of new guys (in 2020-21). As a junior, I’m in that position this year and doing it to the best of my ability.”

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season was his second as a right-handed pitcher for the Boilermakers. 

The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder appeared in five games (all in relief) and went 1-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 6 2/3 innings, he struck out two and walked one.

As a freshman in 2019, Wade got into 15 games (two as a starter) and went 2-2 with a 5.18 ERA. In 40 innings, he struck out 27 and walked 11. 

Greg Goff took over as Purdue head coach and Chris Marx became pitching coach for 2020.

“I love Coach Goff,” says Wade. “I really enjoy playing for him. He’s so energetic and positive. 

“He’s a players’ coach. He will love you and get on you to make you better and then love you some more.”

Wade appreciates Marx for his knowledge and attention to detail.

“He wants everybody to succeed and is so organized in the bullpen.

“He has helped a lot of guys with mechanics and the mental game. He tells us to never be comfortable. There’s always something we can do better.”

The plan for 2020 called for Wade to pitch the whole spring then go to St. Louis in the summer for work on getting better at the P3 (Premier Pitching Performance) lab.

When the season was halted, many players stayed in town and continued to work out and stayed on their throwing programs. 

But there was a question.

“What’s next?,” says Wade. “Are we ever going to play baseball again?

“Once total lockdown happened, everybody went home.”

Wade went back to Kokomo then came the chance to compete and train less than an hour away in the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

The righty was assigned to the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles.

“It was a no-brainer to play there,” says Wade. “It was legit.

There were hitters who would expose you if you didn’t throw good pitches. 

“I really enjoyed the competition.”

Wade was used as a starter on Monday or Tuesday and could then recover and ramp up to his next start either at home or — if time allowed — at Pro X Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus.

In 14 2/3 innings, he posted a 2.45 ERA with 10 strikeouts and two walks.

Throwing over-the-top, Wade used a four-seam fastball that was clocked up to 89 mph in the spring and summer. He also used a slider and a change-up.

“The slider is like a slurve,” says Wade. “I throw it hard 12-to-6 but I get left-to-right run.

“The change-up is an ‘open circle.’ Like Trevor Bauer, I start pronating it in my glove. It’s thrown like a fastball. It’s working really good for me.”

In the past few weeks, Wade has been working on a two-seam cutter.

The Business Management major also took an online course this summer. This fall, all but one of his courses are in-person though class size is kept small to eliminate contact tracing.

In the summer of 2018, Wade went to Purdue to begin a throwing and lifting program as well as his studies.

The summer after his freshman season was spent with the Bend (Ore.) Elks of the West Coast Baseball League.

Wade has also worked with Greg Vogt of PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.

Born in Anderson, Ind., Wade was 1 when he moved with his family from Highland, Ind., where his father Mike was head boys basketball coach, to Kokomo. 

Kyle played at Southside Little League then went into travel ball with the Indiana Bulls for his 10U through 15U seasons. His last head coach with that organization was Jeremy Honaker

Wade joined the Trent Hanna-coached Cincinnati Spikes for his 16U and 17U summers.

Mike and Alison Wade have three children — Becca (25), Michaela (23) and Kyle (21). 

Former Kokomo athletic director Mike Wade is now Director of Human Resources and Operations for the Kokomo School Corporation. He played baseball and basketball at Hanover (Ind.) College).

Alison Wade is a first grade teacher at Sycamore International Elementary. She played field hockey at Hanover.

Both daughters are Indiana University graduates and nurses in Indianapolis — Becca at Riley Children’s Hospital and Michaela at IU Health University Hospital. 

Purdue right-hander Kyle Wade delivers a pitch at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind. (PRP Baseball Video)
Kyle Wade (center) celebrates with his Purdue University baseball teammates. The right-handed pitcher has played two seasons with the Boilermakers (2019 and 2020). (Purdue University Photo)
Kyle Wade, a Kokomo (Ind.) High School graduate, is a member of the pitching staff for the Purdue University baseball team. (Purdue University Photo)
Purdue University pitcher Kyle Wade releases the baseball from an over-the-top arm angle. He is a junior in 2020-21. (Purdue University Photo)
In the spring and summer of 2020, Purdue University pitcher Kyle Wade used a four-seam fastball, slider and curveball and has recently been working on a two-seam cutter. (Purdue University Photo)
Kyle Wade is a Business Management major and member of the baseball team at Purdue University. He was a four-year starter at shortstop and quarterback and also played basketball at Kokomo (Ind.) High School. (Purdue University Photo)

Even without minor league season, Roncalli, Louisville grad McAvene keeps on pitching

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael McAvene is doing his best to keep the momentum rolling in his baseball career.

The right-handed pitcher had to push the pause button during his high school and college days because of injury and now he’s at a standstill period as a professional because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down Minor League Baseball in 2020.

McAvene is a 2016 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, playing for three head coaches. He made a few varsity appearances as a freshman for Keith Hatfield in 2013, even more as a sophomore for Daron Spink in 2014, missed his junior season with the Rebels with elbow issues in 2015 and was part of an IHSAA Class 4A state championship team as a senior for Aaron Kroll in 2016.

As a University of Louisville freshman in the spring of 2017, McAvene was hurt in an April relief stint and soon found himself on the operating table. His next pitch in a collegiate game came April 2018.

After getting into seven games (five as a starter) and going 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 17 1/3 innings as a U of L freshman, McAvene went to the bullpen when he came back from his surgery.

The righty made 34 appearances out of the bullpen his last two collegiate seasons, going 2-1 with nine saves, a 3.32 earned run average, 65 strikeouts and 18 walks in 43 1/3 innings. He was named second team all-Atlantic Coast Conference in 2019.

The Cardinals qualified for the NCAA Tournament 2017-19 and went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019

U of L was ranked No. 1 in the nation during part of that stretch and McAvene was labeled as the team’s closer during the end of that run.

“I loved it,” says McAvene. “You have to have a certain mentality for (that role).

“It came easy for me to get the last out of the game, which in my opinion is the last out to get.”

It was while going for that last out that McAvene received an automative four-game suspension following his ejection for disputing an umpire’s decision in NCAA regional victory over Indiana University.

He counts it as part of his experience. 

“I definitely didn’t want to talk about it (immediately after the game),” says McAvene. “But you’ve got to be professional and not let emotions get in the way.”

McAvene cherished the atmosphere created at Louisville by head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) gets you to the point where you’d run through a wall for him and your teammates,” says McAvene. “That’s the culture.

“It’s a testament to the players and the type of people he brings in.”

Williams pushed his pitchers.

“He taught me what it takes to be successful at this level,” says McAvene of Williams. “He’s a very challenging guy. He expects us to be on top of our games at all times. He won’t accept less. He made us accountable.

“When it’s your time, you’re all that’s out there. You have to execute and do all you can to get your team to win.”

McAvene says Williams is one of the best game callers in the country and his scouting reports are second to none.

“(McDonnell and Williams are) two of the most legendary coaches in the history of college baseball and they’re just starting,” says McAvene, who was selected in the third round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs

Appearing in six games with the 2019 Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, he went 0-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 20 strikeouts and four walks in 12 2/3 innings. Of 199 pitches, 126 were thrown for strikes.

The way the organization is currently formed, the next step on the ladder would be with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs.

McAvene faced some hitters before spring training and he’s since had some competitive bullpen sessions while following the program laid out by the Cubs. He just hasn’t delivered a pitch in a game since Aug. 31, 2019.

“I have a pretty good player plan sent out by the Cubs,” says McAvene. “I just can’t replicate in-game reps.”

While some of his former Louisville teammates have been involved in the four-team Battle of the Bourbon Trail independent league in Florence and Lexington, McAvene has stayed in central Indiana to train.

The McAvenes family — Rob, Jennifer, Michael and Bradley — lived for years near Camby, near Mooresville, and now reside in Danville.

It’s about a 10-minute trip to Plainfield to work out at the home of his former Ben Davis Little League and Indiana Outlaws travel coach, Jay Hundley, along with pros Jacson McGowan (who played at Brownsburg High School and Purdue University and is now in the Tampa Bay Rays system) and Nick Schnell (who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Roncalli in 2018 and is also with the Rays), Indiana University left-hander Zach Behrmann (Indianapolis North Central graduate) and others. 

McAvene was able to retire most high school hitters with a fastball and a breaking ball. 

While starting at Louisville, he began to get a feel for a change-up. When he went to the back of the Cards’ pen, he used a fastball, slider and curveball and, essentially, shelved the change-up on the shelf.

Given a chance to return to starting with the Cubs, McAvene again began working to get comfortable with throwing a “circle” change — a grip taught to him by a friend while he was with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer of 2018.

“I knew my curveball and my slider were only going to get me so far,” says McAvene. “The change-up sets apart good players from great players.”

Throwing from a low three-quarter arm angle, McAvene throws more two-seam fastballs than four-seamers.

“It has a sinker action,” says McAvene of the two-seamer that registers as a sinker on Cubs’ analytic equipment like Rapsodo and TrackMan. “My arm slot allows for a lot of downward action on it.

“I wanted to make sure I’ve got some lateral movement on it. The sink is an added bonus.”

McAvene’s curve has morphed. He used to throw the pitch in the traditional manner with a sweeping motion. 

“I switched the grip to a knuckle curve to get more depth,” says McAvene. “It pairs well with my fastball and slider.”

As for the slider, McAvene was throwing it at Eugene at 86 to 90 mph.

“It has a very hard and tight break,” says McAvene of the slider. “The movement is late and right at the very end.”

After the 2019 season, McAvene finished his Sports Administration degree, graduating magna cum laude in December.

McAvene, who turned 23 on Aug. 24, says he was hopeful that there might be fall instructional league with the Cubs this year. But since it’s already September and Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are still figuring out the terms of their agreement, that looks improbable.

Born in the same Indianapolis hospital where his mother has spent 30 years as an ICU nurse (IU Health University), McAvene grew up in the Mooresville area. He was an Mooresville Little League all-star from 9 to 11 — the last two with his father as coach (Rob McAvene is now an independent distributor for Pepperidge Farms) — before his one year at Ben Davis Little League. 

Before attending Roncalli, Michael spent Grades K-6 at North Madison Elementary in Camby and middle school at Saint Mark Catholic School on the south side of Indianapolis.

Bradley McAvene (18) is a 2020 graduate of Indiana Connections Academy.

Michael McAvene pitched for the University of Louisville. (Prospects Live Video)
Michael McAvene is a 2016 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where he helped the Rebels win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a senior.
Michael McAvene pitched at the University of Louisville 2017-19. He was the Cardinals closer at the end of that stretch. Louisville went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019. (University of Louisville Photo)
Michael McAvene, a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and the University of Louisville, was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and pitched for the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds in 2019. (Photo by Aussiedi Photography)

Former Notre Dame captain Chase returns to area, will help South Bend Cubs Foundation, 1st Source Bank Performance Center

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tommy Chase knew he wanted to play baseball at the University of Notre Dame since age 5.

He grew up going to Notre Dame camps when Paul Mainieri led the Fighting Irish. Father Mark Chase (Class of 1978) and sister Jacqueline (2009) Notre Dame graduates.

After graduating from Boston College High School in 2008, Cohasset, Mass., native Tommy Chase did take to the diamond and the classroom at ND

Chase started his Irish career with Dave Schrage as head coach, finished with Mik Aoki and served as a team co-captain with Will Hudgins as senior and was on the academic all-district team in 2012. 

Notre Dame degrees were earned by Chase in both Accounting and Psychology.

After graduation, Chase served as video coordinator at the University of California at San Barbara then was an assistant coach at the U.S. Naval Academy (Navy), Southern New Hampshire University, the U.S. Military Academy (Army) and the University of Dayton.

He is now back in northern Indiana to start a new job at Lippert Components in Goshen, Ind., where he will work with former Elkhart Memorial High School and Purdue University catcher and baseball coach at Knightstown, Mount Vernon (Fortville) and Concord high schools Eric Nielsen, and will put his baseball knowledge to use with the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel board and 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field.

In that role, Chase will be working closely with foundation executive director and Performance Center general manager Mark Haley.

“Hales and I connected and, honestly, I just want to help in whatever way that I can,” says Chase. “I’ve had some experiences — both in my playing career and coaching career. 

“(On the) player development side, I think I can add some value. On the recruiting side, I can help some of the older guys — 15- 16-, 17-year-old guys looking to play in college and get them to understand what the recruiting process is like. It can seem very confusing a lot of times, especially to families who haven’t gone through it. I would just love to provide some clarity with that.”

Chase also has many connections in college baseball and knows where the opportunities lie.

“I really like working with young kids,” says Chase. “Baseball is such a great game from the relationships that you have to the friends that you meet and learning lessons from the game itself.”

Throughout all his coaching stops, Chase has worked with hitters, infielders and outfielders. He was an infielder at Notre Dame. He will help with instruction at the Performance Center, as an advisor in the recruiting process and be a second set of eyes for Haley when it comes to talent evaluation and other matters.

At Dayton, Chase was recruiting coordinator for Flyers head coach Jayson King, who is also a Massachusetts native.

“We went into a program that we both thought had a lot of promise,” says Chase. “There were a lot of positive things. It was a high academic school. The campus was beautiful. A lot of things you can sell to high school kids.

“We really worked hard at it and were able to get Dayton to where we felt it should be — a competitive school in the Athletic 10 (Conference) and getting good players from that area.”

Chase and King had been together as assistants on the Army staff. It was King who brought Chase to West Point, N.Y., having known about him while at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. Chase and coordinator King shared recruiting duties. The Black Knights head coach was — and still is — Jim Foster.

“Coach Foster is a baseball savant. He played many years in the minor leagues as a catcher and he has that kind of brain. He really understands the game. He’s very good at teaching the game to the players.”

Chase says he knew intricacies of the game, but Foster “took it to a whole different level.”

Jacob Hurtubise, a Zionsville High School graduate now in the Cincinnati Reds organization, played at Army when Chase was there.

Scott Loiseau is head coach of the Southern New Hampshire Pennmen. 

“Scott’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around in terms of working with his players and getting them to play at their highest level,” says Chase. “His ability to develop relationships with guys is to the point where the team wants to run through a wall with that guy.

“He really, really cares about his players and his coaches. He allows coaches to develop. He gave me a lot of responsibility when I stepped on-campus as a young kid. He was a great mentor for me.

“Most guys are coaching college baseball out of the passion that they have either for the game or the people that they’re around and — a lot of time — it’s both. There are a lot of things you have to sacrifice to be a college baseball coach.”

Chase was a graduate assistant at SNHU and began work on a Masters of Business Administration with a  concentration in Sport Management.

As a volunteer assistant at Navy, Chase first learned about what it means to coach baseball at a military school by Midshipmen head coach a baseball lifer Paul Kostacopoulos, who was assistant and head coach at Providence (R.I.) College and head coach at the University of Maine before landing at Navy in Annapolis, Md.

“He’s been very successful for a very long time,” says Chase for Kostacopoulos. “He took over at Navy and really turned a program around that had been relatively mediocre in the past, but had a great history. He brought it to being consistently competitive and at the top of the Patriot League every single year and winning 30-plus games.

“That’s a hard job. There’s a lot of things at a military academy you need to uphold. It’s not just winning on the field. It goes beyond that. It goes to understanding what the cadet life is being able to foster both commitments to baseball, academics and their military requirements. He does a great job to do all those things.”

Chase says that players at military academies may not have the time to devote to baseball that other schools do. But they bring a resilient, hard-nosed mentality to the field because they compete in everything they do.

UC-Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Checketts gave Chase his first college baseball job as the Gauchos video coordinator.

“I learned what a College World Series program looks like in the inside from the time commitment to the culture to the player development,” says Chase. “As a kid just coming out of college you don’t see what the coaches do off the field.”

Chase still maintains relationships with former Notre Dame bosses Schrage and Aoki.

Chase played three seasons for the Irish. He appeared in six games (all at second base) as a freshman in 2009 and missed the 2010 season following knee surgery with Schrage as head coach. 

“Coach Schrage gave me a chance to live my dream of going to Notre Dame and playing baseball there,” says Chase. “He was a very personable guy and really cared about the well-being of his players.

“He was always a positive person. He was not a cutthroat-type coach. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

Aoki took over for 2011 and Chase got into 11 games (one as a starter). 

“He’s a New England guy through and through,” says Chase of Aoki. “He allowed me to work my way to a chance to compete on the field and contribute to the team.”

At the end of 2011 season, his teammates thought enough of him to choose him as one of the captains for 2012 as he played in 17 games (four starts).

“It was a great honor,” says Chase of being chosen as a captain. “I enjoyed having a voice to lead the other guys and help them. When you’re a coach, you’re implementing your culture and you’re talking about the things that are important. A lot of times, the thing that’s most important is the leaders on the team saying the same message. 

“A lot of times it’s not what the coaches say, it’s what the leaders among the players say to each other. The players have so much influence over the where the team’s headed and the culture of the team.”

Leaders can handle issues like players coming late to the weight room before it ever becomes big and has to be addressed by the coaching staff.

Chase grew up in Cohasset a few years ahead of Mike Monaco, who went on to Notre Dame and served as a broadcaster for the South Bend Cubs and now counts and has called games for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox and the big-league Boston Red Sox.

Tommy and Teresa Chase have three sons — David (2 1/2), Peter (1) and Patrick (5 weeks). They are in the process of buying a home in Granger, Ind. Many friends from Tommy’s Notre Dame days still live in the South Bend area.

Tommy Chase was a Notre Dame baseball co-captain in his senior season of 2012. (Notre Dame Video)
Tommy Chase has joined the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel board and will be an instructor at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. He is a former baseball co-captain at the University of Notre Dame and has extensive experience as a college coach.

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Confidence grows for Butler left-hander Graziano

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Graziano has learned lessons in confidence during his baseball career.

The left-handed pitcher built up a sense of determination that took him to weekend starter in his third season at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Years before, a surge of assurance had helped Graziano make the transition from the freshmen team to varsity as sophomore at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind.

Graziano credits Butler head coach Dave Schrage for giving him the courage to advance as a Bulldog.

“He wants to get the best out of you,” says Graziano of Schrage. “He definitely helped me settle in by instilling that confidence in me. 

“I feel like I was ready to throw pretty well.”

As a Butler freshman in 2018, Graziano made 13 mound appearances (four starts) and went 3-0 with a 4.70 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 innings.

Primarily a mid-week starter in 2019, the lefty appeared in 15 games (seven starts) and went 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 17 walks in 44 innings.

The Bulldogs were 8-7 and coming off a March 11 victory against Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) in Port Charlotte, Fla., when the team found out the 2020 season had been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were sitting at the pool,” says Graziano. “We thought we were coming back in two weeks.

“We were optimistic.”

It soon turned out that the rest of the campaign was canceled and student-athletes were sent home.

Graziano went back to northwest Indiana having gotten into four games (all as a starter) and went 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, 15 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 1/3 innings. His first start was on a Saturday and the rest came on Sunday.

“I worked all fall to get there,” says Graziano of his role. “I finally got it. I really liked pitching on the weekend.

“Everyone’s locked in and there’s a little bit of pressure.”

When the 2020 shutdown happened, Graziano had already secured an internship and was looking to find a baseball team for the summer.

A double major in Finance and Risk Management, Graziano is doing his internship with Chicago-based Aon and pitching on weekends with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

Butler business school requires two internships,” says Graziano. “That’s 240 hours. You also take a class, write a paper and do interviews.

“It’s kind of a lot.”

For his first internship, Joe is on the clock online at his house in Schererville, Ind., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. He is upstairs while his mother, Roxanna, does her sales job with U.S. Steel, is in the basement. 

When Joe is done with his internship duties, he does his band and weighted ball work and heads across the street to Autumn Creek Park to play catch with younger brother Joshua. 

At 21, Joe is two years older than his brother. Joshua is enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Their father, Joseph, is a manager at the BP Whiting Refinery, which is very near where Joe is in his second stint with the Oilmen.

The summer right after he graduated from Lake Central in 2017, Joe appeared in seven Northwest Indiana games (five starts) and went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA, 39 strikeouts and six walks in 31 innings.

“It was the first time I faced college hitters,” says Graziano. “I was playing with kids out of The Region. We were  finally on a friendly surface and can be teammates.

Manager Adam Enright, a Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate, also worked closely with Oilmen pitchers.

In 2020, he is being used strictly as a reliever.

“I didn’t want to rush back into it,” says Graziano. “I’m pitching 2-3 innings at a time. I want to build my stamina and pitch count back up.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound southpaw took off about a week off when the 2020 spring season shut down then began training, lifting weights and throwing while reaching out to the Oilmen.

“I want to keep my spot when I get back to Butler,” says Graziano.

The Oilmen are managed by Chris Cunningham. Graziano spends most of his time with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko.

“I’ve been trying to take in as much information as possible,” says Graziano. “He’s been teaching me this forkball/splitter. I have pretty big hands.

“I like how (Pobereyko) thinks on the mound. You’re better than the hitter. Never lose confidence. I definitely like Po’s mentality.”

In the summer of 2019, Graziano pitched for the Coastal Plain League’s Fayetteville (N.C.) SwampDogs

It was a struggle at first.

“I started doing well toward the end,” says Graziano. “I got a lot better out there. I had a little adversity and I battled through it.”

Fayetteville was managed by David Anderson

Lefty Graziano was with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2018. There, he enjoyed living with a host family and got to play with Butler teammate Connor Schultz.

“You make a lot of new friends in summer ball,” says Graziano, who played for a Lafayette team managed by Will Arnold. Future Butler assistant Jake Ratz was also on the Aviators coaching staff.

Ben Norton is Butler’s pitching coach. He has taught Graziano a slider and helped instill confidence.

“He’s helped me develop into a great pitcher,” says Graziano of Norton. “He helps everyone

“If you struggle, he’s not going to give up on you.”

At Lake Central, three-year letterman Graziano went 20-7 (with a pair of perfect games), including 8-4 against Duneland Athletic Conference opponents. As a senior, he went 6-3 with a 2.11 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 13 walks in 60 innings and helped the Indians to an IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional title

He was all-DAC, all-area (Northwest Indiana Times) and Academic All-State.

Jeff Sandor was LC’s head coach for Graziano’s sophomore and junior seasons. Mike Swartzentruber took over the program in his senior year.

“(Sandor) is the craziest coach I’ve played for and one of the best coaches I’ve played for,” says Graziano. “He was tough on guys. But he had to be be. He demanded that level of play.

“You knew what you had to bring to the table.”

Graziano says Swartzentruber’s strength came in team building.

“Swartz was more calm than Sandor,” says Graziano. “We all knew what we wanted to do. We had a lot of good players. Swartz did a good job of bringing the team together.”

At Lake Central — a school with about 3,300 students — it is not uncommon for close to 100 players to try out for baseball. The high school is fed by three middle schools — Clark, Grimmer and Kahler].

“There’s a lot of competition,” says Graziano, who came through Grimmer. “You feel bad when your friends don’t make the team. The school is so big.”

While the rivalries among the middle schools is fierce, they become one team at LC.

While at Lake Central, southpaw Graziano used a curve ball that was “a little loopy and slow” that fooled many high school hitters.

When he got to Butler, he left the curve for a slider that has a tighter spin and has more horizontal than vertical break.

From his three-quarter overhand arm slot, Graziano also throws a tailing four-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up.

“It’s really good against righties,” says Graziano. “It has depth and tails away.”

Born in Munster, Ind., Graziano spent the early part of his life in nearby Hammond before settling in Schererville.

While playing for the Schererville Shock — coached by Dan Bosold and Dave Lopez — he made close friends. Among those are current Purdue players Ben Nisle and Bo Hofstra as well as Jarrett Lopez (who went to Purdue Northwest).

Grazing played for Apex Baseball in the summers leading into his last two years in high school. Marc Escobedo was the head coach. Brett Summers was his pitching coach/instructor.

“(Summers) always helped me,” says Graziano. “He was always patient.”

Graziano also enjoyed his time on the basketball court. At Lake Central, he played for head coach Dave Milausnic whom he salutes for getting the Indians ready for their demanding schedule.

“Our senior year, we didn’t have a big superstar,” says Graziano. “(Milausnic) had us prepared for every game. 

“I was the point guard as a senior. I was calling the plays and handling the ball a lot.”

Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons for Butler University in Indianapolis (2018-20). The left-hander was a weekend starter during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. (Butler University Photo)
The summer of 2020 is the second for Joe Graziano on the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Olimen. He played for the Whiting, Ind.-based team in 2017, right after his senior year at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. He has pitched three seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Northwest Indiana Oilmen Photo)
Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. The left-hander was a weekend starter in 2020. (Butler University Photo)

Lefty Wynja getting ready for South Florida Bulls

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hayden Wynja hasn’t had far to go to prepare for his next diamond destination.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher who graduated from Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis in 2017 has been getting ready to join the mound staff at the University of South Florida by taking part in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

On Thursday, July 16, Wynja (pronounced Win-Yuh) relieved during the CSL All-Star Game at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

“It felt like baseball again,” says Wynja, who is with the A-Team in the 12-team circuit. “We were on grass and dirt and in front of people.

“It was awesome.”

The CSL came together when other summer leagues were shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays with the option of training at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park Wednesday through Friday.

“It’s not like any summer ball I’ve ever played,” says Wynja. “I like the structure of it, too and that it’s close to home.”

At Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Wynja and the Statesmen were coming off a win against No. 1-ranked Logan A. Logan on March 7 when they learned that the 2020 spring season was over.

A similar storyline has been echoed across college baseball.

“This is our season and people are treating it like that,” says Wynja of the Grand Park league. “Players are extremely motivated. They want to play ball. The level of competition is really, really high.”

It was while training during the quarantine that Wynja heard about the opportunity put together by Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments from ball-playing friends.

“It’s crazy how quickly word traveled,” says Wynja.

Besides working on his pitches, including a four-seam running fastball that is clocked in the low 90’s, a hard-biting slider and four-seam change-up generally coming into at 81 to 83 mph thrown from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Wynja has been carrying a full online college course load. 

He’s taking two through Lincoln Trail and two through USF, which is located in Tampa, Fla.

“Art History is kicking my butt,” says Wynja of one South Florida class. He intends to major in Communication at his new school.

Wynja helped Heritage Christian to IHSAA Class 2A sectional titles in 2015 at Park Tudor, 2016 at Heritage Christian and 2017 at Triton Central. He began pitching as a junior and impressed enough to be selected in the 30th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, but did not sign.

“It didn’t make sense,” says Wynja. “I needed more confidence.

“When I get into pro ball, I want to stay there. I want to make baseball a career. It’s about when I’m ready.

“Hopefully my name is called next year (in the MLB Draft) and I can get started in pro ball.”

Thanks to the pandemic, the southpaw still has three years of NCAA eligibility (one added in 2020).

South Florida’s head coach is Billy Mohl. Karsten Whitson is the Bulls’ pitching coach.

Wynja went to Purdue University in the fall of 2017 as a Selling and Sales Management major. He broke his back and was redshirted for the 2018 season.

The lanky lefty helped the Vic Evans-coached Owensboro (Ky.) RiverDawgs to an Ohio Valley League championship that summer. Aaron Biddle was the pitching coach.

Pitching for Purdue in 2019, Wynja got into eight games (all in relief) and went 0-0 with 12 strikeouts and nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.

Mark Wasikowski was then the Boilermakers head coach. Wynja worked closely with then-pitching coach Elliott Cribby.

“I loved Cribby,” says Wynja. “He’s one of the best pitching coaches I’ve ever had. You could talk to him. He was relatable.

“He pushed us really hard, but he was always there. You knew he had your back. That’s important in coaching.”

In the summer of 2019, Wynja wore the jersey of the Washington-based D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. He relieved in five of eight appearances, going 1-2 with 28 strikeouts and 21 walks in 21 innings.

Michael Barbera is the Grays’ founder, president and chairman.

Deciding to go the junior college route, Wynja selected Lincoln Trail. But he did not commit before Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers had secured a pitching coach. 

That turned out to be Andrew Elliott, who pitched at Wright State University and played two years in the Baltimore Orioles organization and two in independent pro ball.

“We clicked right away,” says Wynja of Elliott. “He was similar to Coach Cribby. He was always motivating you. 

“He played pro ball, so he knew what he was talking about.”

Wynja made five mound appearances (four in relief) for Lincoln Trail in 2020, going 1-2 with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks in 13 1/3 innings.

Most of the K’s came courtesy of the slider.

“It’s nasty,” says Wynja of a delivery that is more horizontal than vertical. “That’s my pitch. I love that thing.

“It bites and it bites hard.”

Wynja saw Bowers as a father figure.

“He’s the closest thing to a parent you can have away from home,” says Wynja. “My cousin (Blake Wynja, who is one year older than Hayden) passed away during the season. He told me to go home and spend time with my family.

“It was family, academics then baseball. He always makes sure we’re handling our academics. That’s something I really appreciated. He was always in your corner.”

Hayden is part of a large blended family. There’s mother Kristi, father Brad and siblings Grace Wynja, Bella Wynja, Max Lock, Hunter Drook, Harper Drook and Logan Wynja.

Mom is in pharmaceutical sales. Dad is an accountant. Grace is a 2020 Heritage Christian graduate bound for Purdue. Bella is a 5-foot-11 HC sophomore-to-be on the HC volleyball team. Max is entering eighth grade. Twins Hunter (a boy) and Harper (a girl) are going into sixth grade. Logan is 5.

When Hayden Wynja closes the books on Lincoln Trail, he will have two associate degrees (Sport Management and Science) and a load of baseball knowledge.

“It’s best decision I ever made regarding baseball,” says Wynja of deciding LTC would be his junior college home. “It was amazing. There was great competition.

“Everyone has the same mentality — get better. Everyone wants to be the best versions of themselves.”

Wynja says a big college town can offer many distractions. Not so in tiny Robinson.

“It was baseball and school strictly,” says Wynja. “There’s nothing else.

“Junior college is not for everyone. It’s for people who love baseball and being around the game. 

“That’s what made it more enjoyable for me.”

Wynja was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to central Indiana at 2.

He played T-ball then at Billericay Park in Fishers. His first travel ball teams were the Cats and HSE Royals.

During his high school summers, he was coached by Ken Granger with USAthletic and then the Pony Express.

Wynja attended Heritage Christian from kindergarten through eighth grade then transferred to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, where he was cut from the baseball and basketball teams as a 5-foot-10, 110-pound freshman. He went back to Heritage Christian.

It was after he hit a walk-off grand slam in travel ball in the seventh grade that Eagles baseball coach Dan Ambrose sent Wynja a congratulatory letter and he later had him on his team.

“(Ambrose) made baseball fun,” says Wynja. “He was one of my teachers, too.”

Wynja split time between varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore in baseball and basketball then played varsity after that.

Heritage Christian, coached by Corey Jackson, made a run all the way to the 2A southern semistate in basketball with Wynja among the five seniors.

“That’s the favorite team I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt,” says Wynja. “We had great chemistry.

“We broke countless school records and were super, super close.”

HC’s annual senior trip to New York came during regional week and the players opted to miss it for practice. During that week, they got to go on a helicopter ride, go-karting and sat curtsied at an Indiana Pacers game among memorable events.

After winning the Speedway Sectional, the Eagles reigned at the Greenfield-Central Regional before being stopped by eventual state runner-up Crawford County in the Richmond Semistate.

Hayden Wynja pitches for the D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in 2019. He pitched for Lincoln Trail College in 2020 and is bound for the University of South Florida. He is a graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. He played at Purdue University in 2018. He was the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star for the A-Team. (D.C. Grays Photo)
Hayden Wynja, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher, spent his 2020 baseball season at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. He is a 2017 graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. After a redshirt season, he played at Purdue University in 2019. He has three years of NCAA eligibility remaining as he transfers to the University of South Florida. (Lincoln Trail College Photo)

Purdue’s Nisle getting chance to hone skills in College Summer League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Nisle has been to Victory Field.

So far he has not gotten to play at the downtown Indianapolis baseball park.

That is set to change Thursday, July 13 when Purdue University righty-swinging outfielder Nisle suits up for the Blue squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Boilermakers coaches were looking to find Nisle and other Purdue players a summer baseball home as the COVID-19 pandemic came along and shortened the college spring season and caused many summer leagues to cancel play for 2020.

Through a partnership of Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., CSL sprouted as a developmental opportunity.

“Having a place to play is very nice,” says Nisle of the 12-team CSL. “It’s great competition.

“You’re seeing great (pitching) arms.

“I’m getting good at-bats and playing time.”

Nisle plays for the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers. 

Purdue outfielder Jack Firestone has also been chosen for the CSL All-Star Game.

A 2017 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., Nisle has played three seasons at Purdue.

In 91 games (86 as a starter), he hit .298 (89-of-299) with nine home runs, 57 runs batted in and 54 runs scored. The 2018 season saw Nisle garner Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.

He did not play last summer while rehabbing a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2019 Boiler season. He also took summer classes.

During the truncated 2020 season, Nisle started in all 14 games for the Boilers (7-7) as a corner outfielder and hit .320 (16-of-50) with one homer, six RBIs and 16 runs. 

“I have a simple approach,” says Nisle of his hitting philosophy. “Hit the ball hard and what happens from there happens.”

Ticking off his strengths as an athlete, Nisle cites his knowledge of the game and his physical tools.

“I was very blessed with all that stuff,” says Nisle, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.

When the season was canceled the Boilers were practicing and about to leave for a series at the University of Evansville.

“It was pretty startling,” says Nisle. “I didn’t know how to feel.”

Before long, he was finishing the spring semester via technology.

“I’ve taken online classes before,” says Nisle, a Construction Management Technology major who was named Academic all-Big Ten Conference in the spring. “It wasn’t so bad.”

The 2020 season was Nisle’s first with Greg Goff as head coach after two campaigns with Mark Wasikowski (now at the University of Oregon).

“He’s a great person to be around everyday,” says Nisle of Goff. “He’s about being aggressive, upbeat and positive.

“(Wasikowski) is a very, very good coach. I learned a ton from him.”

Nisle was on the Lake Central varsity for four years — three with Jeff Sandor as head coach and his senior year with Mike Swartzentruber leading the Indians.

“(Sandor) was one of my favorite coaches for sure,” says Nisle. “He was an intense guy. He knew a ton about the game.

“(Swartzentruber) is a good person all-around. He knew what he was doing. He made you see different things.”

Nisle was an all-state player his final two seasons at Lake Central. He was the Duneland Athletic Conference MVP as a junior, hitting .470 with four homers and 36 RBIs. As a senior, he batted .380 with four homers and 38 RBIs and was again chosen all-DAC. As a freshman in 2014, he was LC’s rookie of the year with .474 average. The Indians won IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional titles in 2014 and 2017. They also won a LaPorte Regional crown in 2014.

Born in Munster, Ind., Nisle grew up in Schererville, Ind. He played for the Schererville Shock from age 7 to 15. Dan Bosold was the manager of that team with Dave Lopez, Ron Mihalic and Ben’s father, Gerry Nisle, as coaches.

For his 16U and 17U summers, Ben played for the Ryan Bunnell-coached Indiana Bulls

The summer leading into his freshman year at Purdue, Nisle did not play baseball. He went to campus early to take summer courses and work out.

Gerry Nisle (who works at Pepsi) and wife Michele (who is employed by Franciscan Alliance) have three children — Alex (24), Ben (21) and Mia (14). 

Gerry played football at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Michele was a gymnast at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Alex started his college baseball career at SJC. When the school was closed, he finished at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill. He was named to the all-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team in 2019. Mia plays soccer and basketball.

Ben Nisle, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at Purdue University. He has been chosen for the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game Thursday, July 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. (Purdue University Photo)

Southpaw Samuelson keeps racking up K’s as Braves minor leaguer

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Samuelson has long had a knack for strikeouts.

Since he began pitching baseballs as a young boy living in LaPorte, Ind., and playing in the KVA youth league, the left-hander has been racking up K’s.

“I’ve missed bats my whole life,” says Samuelson, a 21-year-old who is now in the Atlanta Braves organization. “With my delivery, I hide the ball very well. It stays behind my body.”

Selected in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by Atlanta out of Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., Samuelson made eight appearances (all in relief) with the Gulf Coast Braves last summer, going 1-1 with one save and a 6.39 earned run average. In 12 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked six in a season cut short by Hurricane Dorian. That’s a rate of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

The lefty played two seasons for National Junior College Athletic Association Division I powerhouse Wabash Valley, where Rob Fournier is head coach and Aaron Biddle the pitching coach/associate head coach.

In the spring of 2019, Samuelson was 1-0 with two saves and a 2.93. He got into 16 games (all in relief). In 15 1/3 innings, he fanned 29 and walked 13 for the 55-4 Warriors. That’s 16.6 K’s per nine innings.

As a freshman in 2018, Samuelson made 11 mound appearances (all in relief) and went 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA. He fanned 17 and walked seven in 9 1/3 innings as the WVC Warriors went 45-11-1. His K-per nine rate was 16.3.

Samuelson is a 2017 graduate of LaPorte High School. In his senior season with the Slicers he went 4-4 with one save and a 1.69 ERA. Playing for head coach Scott Upp and pitching coach Jeff DeMass, he whiffed 67 and walked 20 in 45 2/3 innings. That’s 10.2 strikeouts per seven innings.

“I had a lot of fun playing high school baseball for the Slicers,” says Samuelson. “Coach Upp (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) is perfect mix of intense and making sure you have fun.

“He’s a really good coach. He knows what he’s doing.”

Samuelson played two years on the junior varsity and two years on varsity. At the start, he resisted developing a compliment to his fastball and curveball.

“When I was younger I refused to throw a change-up,” says Samuelson. “Coach DeMass is the only reason I have any semblance of a change-up at all.”

To this day, Samuelson uses his “circle” change sparingly. His “out” pitch is his curve. 

“It got me on the radar of college coaches and pro scouts,” says Samuelson of his bender. “It’s more of a sweeper, moving 10-to-4 or 10-to-5. It’s been my bread-and-butter pitch since I’ve been a pitcher. 

“There are games I might have thrown it more than my fastball.”

A four-seam fastball with natural movement comes out of the hand of the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder.

“There are days when my fastball runs arm-side a lot,” says Samuelson. “I don’t know why.”

Samuelson never hit 90 mph on the radar gun his freshmen year at Wabash Valley. But after a year of daily long toss and plenty of weight lifting, he was hitting that mark consistently as a sophomore.

“Playing at Wabash was quite an experience,” says Samuelson. “They’re so focused on getting better and winning games. Everyday we did something. There were no days off. It was an absolute grind.”

Samuelson calls Fournier one of the most intense coaches he’s ever seen.

“He got upset if we didn’t play up to our potential,” says Samuelson. “We were so talented. I’d put us up against a lot of (NCAA) Division I college teams. A lot of players turned down the (MLB) Draft or went to very good Division I programs. The talent level just pushes you to be better.”

Samuelson credits Biddle for tweaking his mechanics, but also instilling confidence.

“He was a big mindset guy,” says Samuelson of Biddle. “It takes a lot of mental fortitude to be a good pitcher.”

Samuelson, who earned an Arts, Media & Science associate degree at Wabash Valley, was headed to Division I baseball after his junior college experience, but opted to go pro instead.

“It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” says Samuelson. “I was very close to going to North Carolina State. But I’ve always wanted to play professional baseball.”

Since being drafted, Major League Baseball has been talking about shrinking the minors and cut the draft from 40 to five rounds in 2020.

“Looking back, I’m very glad I did what I did,” says Samuelson.

The summer between his freshmen and sophomore collegiate seasons, the southpaw was with the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash. Adam Hines was the head coach and Brandon Mattingly the pitching coach.

“(Mattingly) helped me a lot with straight mechanical stuff,” says Samuelson. “Like using my lower half and staying on-plane.”

After he spent a summer with the LaPorte Titans, Samuelson’s junior high and high school travel ball seasons were spent with the Scott Ellrich-coached Indiana Breakers.

“I credit him for a lot of the pitching I’ve learned,” says Samuelson, who still regularly converses with Ellrich.

Samuelson was at 2020 Braves spring training less than two weeks when it was shut down because of COVID-19 and he returned to LaPorte.

He had been working out since fall — lifting weights at the LaPorte County Family YMCA and throwing at at facility own by the Land family (LPHS Class of 2023’s Jackson Land was often his catcher).

He also worked as a substitute teacher at LaPorte Middle School.

During and after quarantine, Samuelson stayed in game shape. Recently, he found out there will be no Minor League Baseball season in 2020 and cut back on the intensity.

It was ferocity that helped Samuelson and his teammates to basketball success while playing for Tom Wells at LaPorte High.

“We were never the most athletic kids with the most skills,” says Samuelson. “Basketball was not our first sport. The other four starters were football players.

“(Wells) instill straight toughness. We played grittier and tougher than anybody else, that’s why we won a lot of games.”

Andy is the oldest of Greg and Becky Samuelson’s three children. Greg Samuelson is a seventh grade science teacher at LaPorte Middle School. Becky Samuelson is a sixth grade math teacher at Kesling Intermediate School). 

Emily Samuelson, who played softball at LPHS, just finished her freshman year at Purdue University where she is studying nursing. Tommy Samuelson was a LaPorte freshman in 2019-20, playing baseball and baseball.

“He’s already as tall as me,” says Andy of Tommy. “He has a chance to be better than I ever was.”

Andy Samuelson, a graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., signs with the Atlanta Braves in 2019. He played with the Gulf Coast Braves in his first professional baseball season. The 2020 Minor League Baseball campaign was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.