Tag Archives: Ryan Brownlee

Butler volunteer Montgomery places premium on relationship building

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bailey Montgomery was well on his way to an engineering degree when he decided that the call to stay in baseball was just too strong.

Montgomery, a 2015 Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School graduate, was heading into his last season as a player at Western Illinois University in the spring of 2019 when he decided to change his major to General Studies with a Mathematics minor, which allowed him to graduate and pursue a coaching path.

“It’s what I was passionate about,” says Montgomery. “I couldn’t leave the field.”

At 24, Montgomery has been a volunteer coach at Butler University in Indianapolis since August 2020 after serving as hitting coach for the summer collegiate Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2019 and hitting/outfield coach and recruiting director at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 2019-20.

Montgomery places an emphasis on developing relationships with players.

It’s really something I’ve been trying to hang my hat on,” says Montgomery. “I know how important it is at my age that I build trust with the guys. I want the guys to know I truly care about their development and their individual plan.

“Understanding that individual person is so huge.”

The Butler staff is headed by veteran Dave Schrage with full-time assistants Matt Kennedy (hitting coach and recruiting coordinator) and Ben Norton (pitching coach).

Montgomery enjoys listening to Schrage’s stories and soaking up his diamond wisdom.

“It’s something different everyday,” says Montgomery. “Coach Schrage and Coach Kennedy have given me so much freedom. They’ve allowed me to grow as a young coach.”

Montgomery has some keys as a hitting coaching.

“It’s about making everything repeatable and letting them know what we expect from each guy to make our offense as complete as we can make it,” says Montgomery. “We keep it simple and get them to be confident in what they need to do.”

Kennedy and Montgomery have Butler hitters keeping journals that allow the coaches to follow the process and learning methods for each player.

“There’s not one way to skin a cat,” says Montgomery. “It’s understanding where they’re at.

“Being able to manage people is ultimately going to define how successful they are.”

Butler wrapped up two months of fall practice — which included individualized work and intrasquad scrimmages — in October. 

“We had a tremendous fall,” says Montgomery. “We maximized the time with our guys.”

All students left campus after Thanksgiving and are not expected back until late January.

To keep the Bulldogs on track, there have been Zoom calls.

The 2021 season is due to begin Feb. 19. The Big East Conference will go to four-game weekend series. As of now, Butler will be allowed to keep the non-conference games now on the its schedule.

During the Christmas break, Montgomery has stayed in Indianapolis and conducted lessons for players middle school age and younger (the NCAA is not currently allowing camps or lessons with high schoolers).

“I’m getting as many hours in the (batting cage) as I can,” says Montgomery.

Born in Evansville, Ind., Montgomery grew up in Vincennes. He played on Cal Ripken League teams coached by father Ross Montgomery until age 12. When Bailey played travel ball for the Indiana Redbirds at 13U and 14U, Jay Wolfe was the head coach and Ross Montgomery helped.

Montgomery’s 15U, 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Nitro, coached by Eric Dill and Kris Dill. 

At 18U, Montgomery got a taste of college baseball atmosphere with the Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks.

At Lincoln, Montgomery for a coaching staff led by Brandon Pfoff with Tim Hutchison, Chris Clements and Andy Pinkstaff as assistants.

“We were competitive on a daily basis,” says Montgomery of the Vincennes Lincoln Alices. “It got me ready for the competitive environment at Wabash Valley.

“Coach Hutchison (who is now head coach at Vincennes Lincoln) was and is a great mentor for me as well. We have daily conversations. We’re always throwing ideas off each other. He has a growth mindset.”

Montgomery hit .352 (31-of-88) at WVC for Warriors head coach Rob Fournier in 2016 and 2017 (a season that finished with a third-place finish at the National Junior College World Series) before coming back to coach.

“Coach Fournier is one of the best recruiting guys I’ve ever seen,” says Montgomery. “He’s helped me with the evaluation piece, conversations with recruits and things to look for.

“I’ve learned the value of relationships (with contacts and recruits). I’m thankful for those conversations.”

Through his experiences, Montgomery counts himself as a big advocate for junior college baseball.

“It’s continuing to grow,” says Montgomery. “It’s an awesome environment if you’re a guy looking to grow and develop.”

Montgomery, a righty-swinging first baseman, played played two seasons at Western Illinois (2018 and 2019), appearing in 88 games (77 starts) and hitting .296 with two home runs, 43 runs batted in and a .991 fielding percentage with 317 putouts and just three errors.

Ryan Brownlee (now assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association) was the Leathernecks head coach.

“Coach Brownlee is just passionate about what he does,” says Montgomery. “Handling relationships is what he does really well. He gets his players to buy in.”

While he was still playing, Montgomery was able to serve something of a behind-the-scenes look at being a coach from Brownlee with access to scouting reports and some recruiting communciation.

During his collegiate playing career, Montgomery spent summers with the Hannibal (Mo.) Cavemen (2016), Irish Hills (Mich.) Leprechauns (2017) and Quincy (Ill.) Gems (2018). He was going to return to the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators as manager in 2020, but the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ross and Robin Montgomery have three children — Brittany, Bailey and Jade. Jade Montgomery is a softball pitcher/first baseman at Eastern Illinois University.

Bailey Montgomery is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Butler University Photo)
Bailey Montgomery, a 2015 Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School, is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. He also played and coached at Wabash Valley College and played and graduated from Western Illinois University. He was a hitting coach for the 2019 summer collegiate Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Butler University Photo)

Motz wants to keep the ball rolling for Crawfordsville Athenians

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Motz was part of the baseball legacy at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School as a player and an assistant coach.

And now he’s laying the groundwork for his first season as the Athenians head coach.

Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate who helped win 105 games during Motz’s four varsity seasons (1992-95) with a Sheridan Regional title in 1995, follows John Froedge as the man in charge. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer let Motz know that the 2020 season — which did not happen because of COVID-19 — would be his last after 39 years.

Baseball at Crawfordsville is now led by Motz, long-time pitching coach Rhett Welliever, varsity/junior varsity assistant Kurt Schlicher and JV coach Tony Bean.

“Coach Froedge and Coach Welliever have equal respect from me,” says Motz. “I want to make sure we still emphasize the important pieces that created this program and use up-to-date relevant stuff that kids will buy into.

“It’s different leadership, but we want to keep this train moving along.”

Motz, 44, held an organizational meeting last weekend that brought together all the coaches in the system from Crawfordsville Youth Baseball for ages 5-12 (an organization Motz led for almost a decade) to a Crawfordsville-only travel team to junior high to high school and got feedback about what has led to successful baseball in the Montgomery County community.

“I wanted them to know I appreciate all that they do,” says Motz. “You have to have a large group of people around me to continue this baseball program.

“Make sure the kids that get the most out of their years playing youth, middle school and high school baseball.”

Motz has been working on an outline that can be used at the lower levels.

“I want to make sure the kids are hearing the right words and that we’re emphasizing the right things when kids are swinging the bat or swinging the bat.”

Motz is also Crawfordsville’s strength & conditioning coach — teaching four classes at the high school and two at the middle school while working with athletes in all sports. He lays down a foundation and adds sports-specific elements.

As an Athenians assistant to Froedge 2007-10, Motz was able to implement functional training exercises and monitor nutrition for a baseball team which produced an IHSAA Class 3A state champion in 2008.

“Those are the things I’m passionate about,” says Motz. “Those kids were strong and 100 healthy when that (2008) postseason began.”

Motz says its easier to develop one-on-one relationships in the weight room than the classroom. 

“You see the true character,” says Motz. “When the going gets tough, who’s going to bear down?

“You share all that information with other coaches.”

Motz, a 2001 Crawfordsville Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, finished his prep days with a .457 batting average, 25 home runs and 164 runs batted in. The IHSBCA Record Book shows th righty swinger third in career hits (187) and tied for sixth in career runs scored (163).

He batted in slots 5-7 in the batting order as a freshman. No. 3 as a sophomore and junior and lead-off — to get more at-bats — as a senior. Depending on the situation, he played second base, shortstop or third base and also pitched. He was selected for the 1995 IHSCA North-South All-Star Series.

His 16U and 17U summers, Motz was with the Indiana Bulls travel organization with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Dennis Kas as head coach and Tom Linkmeyer, Kevin Stephenson and Brent Mewhinney as assistants.

Motz went to the University of Evansville, where he spent five years with U of E Athletics Hall of Famer Jim Brownlee in charge of Purple Aces baseball.

“He truly loved his players,” says Motz of Brownlee. “I learned a lot about myself through those five years about being committed to a program and coach that saw something in me.

“I gave it all I had.”

The Aces coaching staff also featured Tim Brownlee — assistant to Jim Brownlee. Jim’s younger son and Tim’s younger brother — Ryan Brownlee — was a teammate to Motz.

Missing most of the 1997 season with as a medical redshirt (he wound up having Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery), Motz was with Evansville 1996-2000 and tallied 160 career runs.

He was the Opening Day third baseman and a relief pitcher in 1996. He spent most of his time at first base in 1998 and was the starting left fielder in 1999 and 2000.

Motz tied for the team lead in home runs with eight in 1999. He was named CoSIDA All-District V and to the Missouri Valley Conference Academic First Team in 2000 and Honorable Mention MVC Academic in 1998. He earned his degree from Evansville in Physical and Health Education.

Summers during and just after college were spent with the Quincy (Ill.) Gems, Springfield (Ill.) Rifles and Crawfordsville Eagles.

Teammates on the Matt Walker-coached Eagles include Matt McCarty (a Crawfordsville graduate who played in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization) and B.J. Schlicher (a North Montgomery High School graduate who played in the Philadelphia Phillies system).

Motz was given a chance to coach by Doug Schreiber as a Purdue University volunteer assistant in 2001 and 2002 while he was working toward his masters degree in Sport Pedagogy. Todd Murphy was also on that coaching staff. Motz also coached for the Indiana Bulls during his summers.

Brett married Jennifer, whom he knew from high school, about this time and decided not to take the nomadic path of a college coach while starting a family. 

Sons Austin and Wyatt played Crawfordsville Youth Baseball. Now a CHS junior, Austin Motz plays tennis and baseball. Eighth grader Wyatt Motz plays tennis, basketball and baseball. Jennifer Motz is currently on hiatus from her teaching job.

Brett Motz became an assistant to Brent Harmon at North Putnam High School in Rochdale, Ind., for the 2004 season then was Cougars head coach in 2005 and 2006. He still maintains contact with many of his former North Putnam players and looks forward to forming bonds at Crawfordsvlle where many of his former CYB players are now high schoolers.

“I like that emotional leadership you get with a team as a head coach,” says Motz.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge (left) has handed over the head baseball reins of the Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School program to 1995 CHS graduate Brett Motz (right). (Susan Ehrlich Photo)
Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. (Susan Ehrlich Photo)

Carroll sees belonging, connection key to teaching Gen-Z

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jamey Carroll was a professional baseball player until he was 40.

Born and raised in Evansville, Ind., Carroll took to the diamond at Castle High School and the University of Evansville and was in the big leagues with the Montreal Expos, Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals.

Logging almost 2,000 games at second base, third base and shortstop, Carroll gained the knowledge that has landed him a job as coordinator of infielders for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jamey and Kim Carroll have 11-year fraternal twins — Cole and Mackenzie.

As a coach of son Cole’s team, the Space Coast Thunder 12U travel ball team in Melbourne, Fla., Carroll also knows about youth baseball.

“I’m in the fire,” says Carroll while speaking at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville on “Guiding Gen-Z to Greatness.”

Carroll, 45, says the reason we play sports is for a sense of belonging and connection.

“It’s about belong to a group and being connected to people for a cause,” says Carroll.

It’s the memories made with teammates, coaches and more.

“That belonging and connection that I missed, that I couldn’t wait to be a part of again, is what I’m trying to create for my group,” says Carroll of the Space Coast Thunder 12U squad. “With the Pirates, one thing that can really motivate us is the belong and connection. To be motivated, do you feel like you belong and do you feel like you’re connected to who you are?”

In the audience were many of Carroll’s former teammates, including ABCA assistant executive director Ryan Brownlee, and his younger brother, UE head coach Wes Carroll.

“I guarantee you this weekend we’re going to talk about about something because we belong and are connected to something bigger than ourselves,” says Carroll.

Sharing a Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Parenting lesson he learned, Carroll says he watched one of his son — when he was 3 — climb the monkey bars. The boy got about halfway across, stopped and began screaming.

“The first instinct as a parent is to get up and go help them,” says Carroll. “The teacher goes, ‘Nope. Stay right there.’

“But he may fall. The first instinct as a parent: Go save and protect. The teacher goes over and says, “Hey, Bub. When your body’s ready you’ll go over” and turned around and walked away.”

A few days later, Cole went all the way across those monkey bars.

“When he came down he didn’t look at mom and dad and said ‘did you see what I did?’ I honestly can tell you I saw the sense of satisfaction … I just did that.

“He had his own sense of self pride.”

Who is Generation Z?

Give or take three years, it’s people born between 1996-2010. That’s about 72 million people in the world today.

Carroll says we live in a “SCENE” society. We want Speed (slow is bad), Convenience (hard is bad), Entertainment (boring is bad), Nurturing (risk is bad) and Entitlement (labor is bad).

“They’re willing to work hard but they want a reward,” says Carroll. “My son’s guilty of it. ‘Dad, if we go to this tournament do we get a trophy? Are we getting a medal?’ I don’t know, man. Maybe.

“We finished third place in a tournament. Parents want (a group photo). I don’t want to be part of a third-place picture. Get me away from it. What are we doing?

“Anything worth fighting for takes time. When it’s hard, that’s when we grow and learn.”

Risks and taken and those involved leave their comfort zone.

“We have this unique opportunity to bridge this (generation) gap,” says Carroll. “Do we know who’s in front of me? We want to do the drills. We can’t understand why they’re not getting things accomplished. Do we know their skill sets? Do we know their personality? Do we know their parents? Do we know the other coaches?

“Who’s in front of you is more than just a kid. It’s a person. We get to play baseball. It’s what we do. It’s not who they are. Get to know them. Belonging and connection.”

To motivate young players, coaches should get to know them and show that they care.

To get these youngsters to grow and learn, an environment is created where they will learn and will want to come back and play hard.

“Who is this about?,” says Carroll. “Is this about you as a coach or it about those kids?”

At a recent tournament, Carroll saw a kid swing at a pitch in the dirt then witnessed a father bang his fist against a concrete wall.

“Man, who stole your trophies as a kid?, says Carroll. “Why are you so mad at a team in ‘The Middle of Nowhere, Fla.,’ on a Saturday afternoon that means nothing?

“If you don’t win a game, you’re not a good coach. If you’re not a good coach, nobody’s going to respect you and you can’t walk around town.

“Get over the ego. This is not about you. We all had our chance. It’s not about us. It’s about them.”

Carroll says young players can be labeled for a position too early.

“I speak from experience,” says Carroll. “I was an outfielder on all of all-star teams until I was 13. I wasn’t fast enough when we went to the big field to play center field anymore so I moved to shortstop. I got to play shortstop until I was 40 years old.

“We don’t have a right to tell a kid he’s only an outfielder, he’s only a pitcher until we get to a certain point where they’re mature enough to show us who they are. We don’t know. Who are we to decide?”

Carroll says coaches should consider whether their feedback is positive or negative the message they are sending with their body language and tone of voice.

“We talk all the time about how these guys have to risk and create and be able to handle failure and yet when they steal a base we’re the first ones to jump up and ask, ‘What are we doing? Why’d you do that?’

“The thing that gets under my skin is when you’re sitting there and hear ‘Throw strike!’ Wow. No kidding? ‘You’ve got to make that play.’ ‘Why’d you swing at that pitch?’”

Instead of being Coach Obvious, Carroll suggests that they show the player something that will help them throw a strike or swing at the right pitches.

“This game is already hard enough,” says Carroll. “We don’t need to add more to it.

“Did you create that play in practice that he can make it?”

Carroll says the coach should figure out ways to get the player to understand.

“Can we do that?,” says Carroll. “No. It’s their fault.”

Carroll wants to know if coaches are building perfectionists.

“If what we say doesn’t match our actions now it’s causing fear and anxiety inside of a player who doesn’t even want to mess up,” says Carroll. “We had a 9-year-old (on first base) that could even run to second base after a ground ball. Why? Because he was afraid to mess up. Why was he afraid to mess up? His dad was all over him all the time.

“Is that building belonging and connection? Is that creating memories? We can do all the drills we want. How are we speaking to these guys?”

At the same time, Carroll says coaches can talk too much.

“Are we giving too much information?,” says Carroll. “When you talk too much you’re interrupting the body’s ability to learn.”

It helpful to be specific, instructive and constructive.

It was a “nice pitch” but was nice about it?

“Maybe you give a tip?,” says Carroll. “When you just give ‘attaboy’ and you don’t give anything behind it, you’re creating a reliance on the coach. I don’t know what I just did, but (the coach) is happy.”

Carroll says its best to keep the focus for players external rather than internal (‘Make sure you load on that back side. Get your hands up. Make sure you spread.’)

“We give them 10 different things to think about and create that hazy focus,” says Carroll. “We see the ball yet we don’t see it.

“Do we have the ability to go external? Give them outside targets. Hit the ball in the gap. Are we guiding them to the answers or are we just telling them?”

It’s a matter of teaching by the coach and learning by the player.

Carroll has studied the findings of Frans Bosch, an authority on athletic movement.

“It’s not about learning a move and trying to perfect it, says Carroll. “It’s our job as coaches to put them in a learning environment where the brain eliminates what doesn’t work to get to what does.

“We’ve got to be able to create some sort of drill that gets them through every single thing so they know this works compared to that doesn’t work.”

Coaches can run practices where all plays are made perfectly and players “feel good” or are challenged to do things the right way to “get good.”

Carroll talks about “The Gap.”

Carroll says that if players are successful at a task — ie. fielding ground balls — and are successful 80 percent or better, they become bored.

“Did we get them any better?,” says Carroll. “If they fail 50 percent of the time or more, they go into survival mode. Are we learning? They just want to get out of there.

“Each player has a different gap. Do we know who’s in front of us?”

Carroll says building the sense of belonging and connection leads to confidence which leads to trust, focus and performance — concepts explored by Dr. Michael Gervais and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.

Carroll says that coaches can create the process, but asks if they know the player.

In closing, Carroll quoted author Peggy O’Mara: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

“We have this ultimate opportunity to influence a whole group of people,” says Carroll. “They are not jewelry to be shown off. They are human beings that play get to play baseball. Please don’t lose sight of that.

“We had our chance. Now it’s there. Let them have it.”

JAMEYCARROLL

Jamey Carroll, an Evansville, Ind., native, played in the big leagues until he was 40. Now 45, he is coordinator of infielders for the Pittsburgh Pirates and a youth baseball coach. He spoke at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville on “Guiding Gen-Z to Greatness.” (Minnesota Twins Photo)

 

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.

 

Hanover’s Bellak simplifies hitting approach

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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)