Tag Archives: Ryan Brownlee

Brownlee jumping into challenge of new role with ABCA

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Brownlee has always enjoyed a challenge.

As a baseball player, he appreciated being pushed.

The new assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association played for hard-nosed coaches. There was Quentin Merkel at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, Ind., then his father and brother, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee, at the University of Evansville.

“They were not the easiest people in the world to play for,” says Ryan Brownlee, 45. “But they would keep you accountable.

“I’m in a way better position because of the way I was handled in youth sports.”

Memorial lost in the first round of the 1992 IHSAA State Finals to finish 29-1 and sent many players on to college baseball. That was Ryan Brownlee’s junior year.

“I owe (Merkel) a lot,” says Brownlee. “Over the summer, I read a book on the mental aspects of baseball and that changed my playing career.

“I looked at myself in the mirror. Coach Merkel didn’t need to change. I was the one who needed to change.”

In 1993, Memorial went 36-2 and reigned as state champions (Tim Brownlee was part of a state championship team as a Memorial senior in 1989) with team leaders John Ambrose and John Sartore trading duties on the mound and at third base.

“Quentin was very organized (using the same signs at each level from freshmen to varsity),” says Brownlee. “He doesn’t get the credit, but he was very forward-thinking.

“We were doing breathing techniques back then. He saw it as a way to change mentally.”

In 2017, Brownlee wrote a blog post entitled, “Just Breath.”

Playing for Jim and Tim, Ryan was motivated to be a four-year starter for the Purple Aces and twice earned all-conference honors and was an ABCA All-Region selection.

“You just never got a break,” says Brownlee. “I needed someone to push me.

“There’s always things you needed to improve on. I didn’t need to get complacent.”

Brownlee moved to Evansville in 1979 when his dad went from a teacher and coach at Princeton (Ill.) High School and manager for five summers of the Galesburg Pioneers of the old Central Illinois Collegiate League to head coach at UE. Young Ryan got to see the Evansville Triplets, managed by Jim Leyland, and spend lots of time at one of the country’s historic ballparks.

“I fell in love with the game at Bosse Field,” says Brownlee, who played there as Memorial Tiger, Evansville Purple Ace and then for one summer (1997) as a professional with the Greg Taggert-managed Evansville Otters.

“The first half we were terrible,” says Brownlee. “Our bus broke down in Johnstown (Pa.) and we bonded as a team.”

The Otters got hot in the second half and ended up losing in the independent Frontier League finals to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles.

Brownlee’s resume includes 22 seasons as college baseball coach — seven as head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) plus assistant gigs of nine at the University of Iowa (2004-12), four at James Madison University (2000-03) and two at the University of Evansville (1998-99).

Brownlee worked on the staffs of Jack Dahm at Iowa, Spanky McFarland at James Madison and his father at Evansville.

The UE staff included Tim Brownlee (now owner/president of Diamond Sports Promotions), Jeff Leystra (a student assistant who played with Ryan Brownlee on the Otters) and Ryan Barrett (who played with Ryan from age 9 through college).

After 18 years in the Pocket City, Ryan moved nine hours to Harrisonburg, Va., to join McFarland at James Madison.

“(McFarland) was at complete opposite end of the spectrum (from Quentin Merkel, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee),” says Ryan Brownlee. “He had a low pulse and was very laid-back with a dry sense of humor. You could be yourself.

“Spanky is one of the best pitching minds in the world (he’s coached future big league pitchers Kevin Brown, Dan Meyer, Ryan Reid and Brian Schmack, the current Valparaiso University head coach, among others during his career).”

Brownlee also learned much from James Madison assistant Chuck Bartlett. He had batted No. 4 in a Mississippi State University lineup surrounded by Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro and is now a New York Yankees scout.

Being in a new area also challenged Brownlee to get out of his comfort zone. While at JMU, he earned his masters degree in athletic administration. The Dukes were good enough during Brownlee’s time there (averaging 36 wins per game) that he got his foot in the door at Iowa.

Brownlee helped Dahm stabilize a program that had fallen on hard times. He saw Dahm’s personality somewhere between his father’s and McFarland’s.

“He’s just a really good person,” says Brownlee of Dahm, who later hired Jim Brownlee as Hawkeyes pitching coach after the elder Brownlee was head coach at Illinois State University. “We had to do some heavy lifting in nine years to get that thing built up. I wouldn’t be in the position I am now if not for him.”

In 2012, Brownlee addressed the ABCA Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on the “10 Rules of Recovery.”

It was a time management planner that he continued while at Western Illinois and plans to share his values on personal development during speaking engagements with the ABCA.

“If you can manage yourself away from your working environment that carries into your working environment,” says Brownlee. “Hopefully, that makes you productive. The most successful people can handle a lot more. They can balance things. They don’t seem as rushed.

“I guarantee those people are taking some times for themselves, too. It can’t be all work and it can’t be all free time. You have to have that mix.”

While leading the Western Illinois Leathernecks program presented its challenges because of facilities and school size, Brownlee thoroughly enjoyed his time there because of the people he met.

“For me it was about the relationships with the guys,” says Brownlee, who slept in his office his first year at WIU. “That needed to be our niche. That was an enjoyable experience for me. The coaches were great and the kids were great.

“The opportunity with the ABCA was going to be great.”

Brownlee arrived in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday (Oct. 23) and his first full day at the office was Thursday (Oct. 24).

“It’s similar to coaching,” says Brownlee of his ABCA role. “You wear a lot of different hats.”

This fall, he helped host ABCA Barnstormers Regional Coaches Clinics across the country (he took 10 and Jim Richardson took 10). He also lines up the youth speakers and helps with the hot stoves at the national convention (which is Jan. 2-5, 2020 in Nashville). He assists the ABCA’s youth and travel baseball committees and is a liaison for NCAA Division II. After the New Year, he will be part of the ABCA podcast.

“My dad was an ABCA member. I’ve been an ABCA member for 22 years. This is an opportunity. It’s a great company. It’s been around since 1945. The ABCA has always been there to help coaches. Hopefully, that helps players.”

Ryan has been married to Henderson, Ky., native Aimee for 17 years. The Brownlees have two children — Jackson (16) and Norah (14). Ryan says the plans plan is to have the rest of the family move to North Carolina at the end of the school year.

NORARYANBROWNLEERyan Brownlee (right) shares a moment with daughter Norah. Ryan Brownlee, who played high school, college and pro baseball in Evansville, Ind., and was a college coach for 22 (the last seven at Western Illinois University) has become an assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association.

 

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Hanover’s Bellak simplifies hitting approach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is not an easy thing to do well.

Grant Bellak, who enters his second season as head baseball coach at NCAA Division III Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019-20, has his Panthers (15-19 during the 2019 season) following a simplified offensive approach that he first began to develop as an assistant at D-III Franklin (Ind.) College.

In 2018, the Grizzlies were national leaders in batting average, OPS (on-base plus slugging), runs per game, home runs and walks.

Bellak presented “Simplifying the Approach for High Output Offenses” during an American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University in Indianapolis.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“The coaching community has been really, really good to me,” says Bellak, who gave shout-outs to Ryan Brownlee (ABCA Assistant Executive Director of Coaching Outreach and former Western Illinois University head coach), Bill Kurich (Webster University head coach), Adam Smith (Benedictine University head coach) and Lance Marshall (Franklin College head coach).

The Barnstormers appearance was Bellak’s first time as a presenter at an ABCA clinic.

“We look at the approach to hitting as all-encompassing,” says Bellak.

He quoted ABCA Hall of Famer Jerry Weinstein’s 2014 statement that a big league pitcher only hits what he defines as his spot 24 percent of the time.

“For us as hitters, we need to be prepared to hit a lot of ‘mistake’ pitches,” says Bellak. “That’s what you’re going to get.

“To be a high level offense, we need to simplify our approach. At the same time — as (hitting and mental skills guru) Steve Springer says — you won’t hit anything if you’re trying to hit everything.”

Bellak has developed four absolutes for his hitters.

“No. 1, you have to be the best athletic version of yourself,” says Bellak. “It can be two completely different things from our shortstop to our first baseman.

“Secondly, your front foot has to leave the ground at some point.”

Bellak can only think of a few big leaguers — Ian Kinsler and Albert Pujols are two examples — who have had a lot of success keeping their foot on the ground the entire time.

“We teach front foot down on-time,” says Bellak of his third absolute. “We want to work on sequencing from the back side of our body.”

No. 4 involves the player knowing their identity and how they fit into team goals. Hanover’s offensive team goal is an .840 OPS (ideally around .420 on-base average and .420 slugging percentage).

“Our lead-off hitter will try to get to that .840 in a significantly different way than our No. 4 hitter,” says Bellak. “By identifying what category you fit into, you will have a defined set of measurable goals to strive for.

“Being honest with yourself and your abilities will allow you to achieve your goals and help this offense win games.”

Bellak puts offensive players into four categories — Sparks, Hybrid, Hybrid-Plus and Power.

Sparks have a high on-base average, lower slugging percentage and a high number of stolen bases. They generally strike out only once per 15 at-bats and produce less than two home runs, six or more doubles and 10 to 15 stolen bases.

Hybrid players provide a high on-base average and good slugging percentage. They strike out once per 10 at-bats with two or more homers, eight or more doubles and less than six stolen bases.

Hybrid-Plus entails high marks in on-base and slugging averages and the ability to steal bases consistently with one strikeout per 10 at-bats with four or more homers, 12 or more doubles and eight or more stolen bases.

Power hitters are above average in on-base average and excellent in slugging. They will not steal bases often (four or less) and have one strikeout per eight at-bats with five or more homers, 12 or more doubles.

Bellak and his coaching staff are very careful with verbal cues.

“Kids today are very literal,” says Bellak. “You see it all the time. You say, ‘get your front foot down early.’ Then he sits and he can’t sequence properly.

For instance, Hanover coaches will never say “Use your hands” but instead say “Get Turned.”

Instead of “Go oppo,” it’s “Use the backside.”

It’s not “Let it get deep,” but “Use the fat part of the field.”

Rather than “Get on top,” they say “Release the barrel out front.”

Instead of “Use your hands,” it’s “Get turned.”

Following the advice of mental performance expert Brian Cain, words that end with “not” or “‘nt” are not to be used as cues because those negatives stick in the player’s brains.

“We try to change those to ‘you can,’ ‘you will’ vs. ‘won’t,’ ‘don’t,’ ‘can’t.’”

Bellak wants his hitters to “hunt” pitches (aggressive) rather than thinking in terms of a passive word like “wait.”

Hitters ask themselves questions like “Where have I had success?,” “Where do function best?” or “Where am I hitting the ball the hardest and why would I come away from that?”

As a visual tool, Bellak has his players place a large ball (around the size of a basketball) and put it over the plate where they feel they will be most-successful at the plate.

“It’s a pitch they are looking for and they can touch it, see it and feel it,” says Bellak. “We tell them during BP that they’re not going to let any pitches touch their glass ball.”

There is freedom to move the ball around to suit the hitters’ strengths. Power hitters typically want pitches that are “middle-in.”

“Expect them to take more pitches in BP because they’ll say, ‘Coach, that was a little bit off my glass ball,” says Bellak. “But, all of a sudden, they become more refined in their approach and we create height, depth and location.

“It really focuses their approach. It’s simple. It doesn’t take long to explain. You’re getting them free to what they want to do at the plate as hitters.

“With the influx of data, most hitters these days are pretty honest with themselves. I know which pitch I’m going to hammer.”

GRANTBELLAK

Grant Bellak is the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)