Tag Archives: Ryan Bunnell

Westfield, Purdue grad Andrzejewski making adjustments as coach in Florida

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Andrzejewski learned about making adjustments as a baseball player and he’s doing the same as a coach.

At Westfield (Ind.) High School, the right-handed pitcher changed from a three-quarter overhand to sidearm delivery slot prior to his junior season.

Andrzejewski was a second baseman growing up, but he had an all-stater as a classmate who played that position in Brandon Thomas.

“I was OK defensively, but couldn’t hit to save my life,” says Andrzejewski.

Shamrocks coach Ryan Bunnell told him during the off-season prior his junior year that Brett needed to find his niche.

Off the mound, Brett did not throw very hard. But Andrzejewski found that when he threw a ball after picking it up off the ground that it moved and he thought he just might have something.

In his senior year of 2009 while throwing to classmate and future big league catcher Kevin Plawecki, Andrzejewski was part of Westfield’s IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up finish and went on to pitch four seasons of college baseball — 2010 at Franklin (Ind.) College, 2011 at Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College and 2012 and 2013 at Purdue University. The Boilermakers won a Big Ten Conference championship in 2012.

The righty became kind of a right-handed specialist coming from a low angle. All 84 of his collegiate appearances were out of the bullpen.

“My breaking ball was starting behind them,” says Andrzejewski. “I had a lot of run and not a lot of velocity. I was 76 to 78 mph, usually.

“It bought me time on my playing career so I was appreciative of it.”

The son of Brian and Ann and older brother of Tyler and Chase, Brett Andrzejewski earned a history degree from Purdue in 2013, got his teaching certification from Indiana Wesleyan University and spent one season as pitching coach at Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind.

Brett got married and he and wife Michelle went to Florida. He got a job teaching social studies and serving as head baseball coach at Southeast High School, which is located in Bradenton and has about 1,800 students. The 2019 season will be his fourth.

Competing in Florida High School Athletic Association Class 5A (there are currently nine classes for baseball) and with limited resources like he experienced at Mississinewa, Andrzejewski has learned to be smart about his baseball purchases and making the most of what he’s got.

“It forces you as a coach to be creative,” says Andrzejewski, who benefits from Southeast’s agriculture classes working on his field.

To make his players appreciate what they have, he sometimes takes them in the gym for practice even on a sunny day.

“We’re one of the few places in the country that can field ground balls on grass all year,” says Andrzejewski.

Knowing their coach is from Indiana, they ask him if he’s ever played in the snow. That answer is yes.

The baseball timetable in Florida is about several weeks ahead of Indiana.

The FHSAA allows practice to begin Jan. 28 with a first contest date of Feb. 11. Districts, regional and state championships run from May 6-June 1.

Practice for the IHSAA begins March 11 with the first contest March 25 and state tournament series going from May 22-June 18.

Taking from his own experiences, Andrzejewski tells his Southeast Seminoles that they, too, might have to make adjustments to contribute on the diamond.

“Your talent level will take you so far,” says Andrzejewski. “You’ve got to find a way.

“For some guys it might be a sidearm thing or finding a different position or so on and so forth.”

Andrzejewski credits Bunnell for planting a seed.

“Playing for Coach Bunnell inspired me to think about the mental side of the game,” says Andrzejewski. “I had always been interested in it.

“Playing for him is what eventually led me to become a coach.”

At Purdue, Andrzejewski’s head coach was Doug Schreiber.

“Coach Schreib was definitely someone who had that high-intensity approach to coaching,” says Andrzejewski. “That fit my personality. I’m an ultra-competitive guy. He motivated me.”

Andrzejewski also learns from other minds. He attended his first American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis in 2018. He was among the 6,600 coaches at the 2019 event in Dallas.

“I learned so much,” says Andrzejewski. “I was a pitcher so I try to go where my deficiencies are.”

He soaks up as much information on hitting and defense and brings it back to his program.

Not that he uses everything exactly as presented.

“You walk in there with a filter,” says Andrzejewski. “How can my program benefit from this, whether it’s a piece of technology or instruction?

“At Southeast, I’ve had one pitcher who’s thrown over 80 mph since I’ve been there. I’m not going to have guys who will light up the radar gun, so we’ve got to find ways to get those 21 outs.”

brettandrzejewski

Brett Andrzejewski, graduate of Westfield (Ind.) High School and Purdue University, is going into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Southeast High School in Bradenton, Fla. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Lake Central, Purdue grad Olund gets pro start with Traverse City

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STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Two weeks after stepping off the college diamond for the last time, Alec Olund made his professional baseball debut.

Olund, a graduate of Lake Central High School and Purdue University, played for the Boilermakers (38-21) June 3 in the Chapel Hill Regional and soon made his way home to northwest Indiana.

Early last week, he had separate workouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds and independent Windy City Thunderbolts.

On Thursday, he got a call from Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums manager Dan Rohn asking him to join the independent Frontier League club in Evansville.

“It was just out of the blue,” says Olund. “I had never worked out for them or had any previous contact.

“As a crazy side note, my dad (Tony) bought bath bomb for my mom (Lyda) a few weeks ago and name of the bath bomb is Beach Bum and the colors are navy and yellow just like the team. It’s sign that this is meant to be. It’s pretty insane, actually.”

The Olunds as well as the family of Alec’s girlfriend, Rachel Bell, have already been talking about the 300-mile trip to see Alec play and the beach along Lake Michigan.

Alec Olund arrived on Saturday June 16, signed his contract and was on the bench that night. On Sunday, June 17, he was in the lineup. He played in left field and went 0-for-3 from the No. 9 hole.

He picked up his first pro hit —  a fourth-inning single — Tuesday, June 19, at Washington, Pa.

Olund, a right-handed hitter, hit .231, .254, .219 and .336 in his four seasons at Purdue. He appeared in 183 games (152 as a starter). He hit four home runs (two coming in one game his freshman season of 2015).

How has he improved over the years?

“My first two years (at Purdue), I showed glimpses of what I was capable of,” says Olund. “But I had a lot of inconsistencies. I was still — for the lack of a better word, a little immature at times. I was trying to do too much with my swing.

“I’ve always been great defensively with great speed and a great arm.”

Olund went into the 2018 college baseball season thinking it could be his last at any level.

“I tried to simplify some things and just put a good swing on every pitch and not try to do too much,” says Olund. “That’s why I found a lot more success at the plate. I was able to tie everything together.”

In the summer of 2017, Olund played a few games with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen of the Midwest Collegiate League. But he spent most of his time getting bigger and stronger and tweaking his swing. It was something the Purdue staff, who had originally planned to send him to Palm Springs Calif., for the summer season, wanted him to do.

Olund hired a personal trainer — Justin Connors — to put him through a series of vigorous workouts.

“I owe a lot of my success to Justin,” says Olund, who first discussed training with Connors while in Jamaica for older brother Tony Olund’s wedding. “He’s a great guy. He’s really, really good. I wish I would have went to him sooner.

“I worked my absolute tail off and put about 20 pounds of muscle on (at 6-foot-1 1/2 frame).”

Olund had been around 180 pounds and played in the spring at between 198 and 202. “It’s been a huge key for me. I’ve been able to put easier swings in the ball.

“When I was lighter, I had to manufacture a lot of my power. I was using a leg kick and trying to get the timing perfectly. Now, I’ve simplified and I’ve been using my core and my strength to put good swings on the ball.”

Besides the strength building, Olund studied successful major leaguers — guys like Mike Trout, Jose Altuve and Nolan Arenado — and tried to incorporate what they do into his offense.

“I experimented with a lot of different things,” says Olund. “I tried to find what works best for me.”

Former Lake Central coach Jeff Sandor brought Olund up to the varsity during his freshman year and the player never looked back.

Olund was the only sophomore on LC’s 32-1 IHSAA 4A state championship team in 2012.

“Jeff was really, really tough on me,” says Olund of Sandor. “There were times when I would get mad at him. He was hard on me because he knew I had the potential and I could be really, really good.

“He kind of held me to a different standard than other players.”

Olund played four seasons of football in high school and was away from baseball workouts for months in the late summer, fall and early winter.

But even that first season, Sandor had him practicing and — soon after — playing with the varsity.

“That was a really neat experience for me,” says Olund. “Here I was 14 or 15, playing with 17- and 18-year-olds.”

The older guys were accepting of the frosh.

“They felt like I belonged there and I did as well,” says Olund. “They took me in with open arms. Jimmy McNamara is one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met. He’s a special kid. He really took me under his wing.

“He said it was OK to be myself. I really jelled with that team and we had a lot of fun.”

McNamara was two years ahead of Olund and was the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2012 before going on to a four-year playing career at Central Michigan University.

Olund’s earliest experience with organized baseball came with youth leagues in Schererville. After that, Tony Olund started the Region Redbirds and the team traveled around the Midwest.

The summer leading into Alec’s freshman year at LC, the Redbirds went 73-7.

“It was amazing,” says Olund. “That was kind of my first taste of really good baseball.”

His 15U summer, he played for what is now known as the Cangelosi Sparks, a travel organization in Illinois led by former major leaguer John Cangelosi.

“That guy’s really, really good at what he does,” says Olund, who went to Cangelosi for hitting lessons for years during his teens. “I really liked him a lot.”

From 16U to 18U, Olund played for the Indiana Bulls. He is appreciative of his years with the elite travel organization.

“Dan Held, Quinn Moore, Gary Sylvester, Ryan Bunnell — so many Bulls people hold a special place in my heart,” says Olund. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball, that 17U summer on the Black team.

“That was an incredible ride, that whole Indiana Bulls experience. I’m grateful for that because it’s put me in the position I am today.”

The Held-coached 17U Black squad was stacked. Many players went on to NCAA Division I baseball and are now playing in the pros, including Drew Ellis and Logan Sowers.

Olund was brought to Purdue by head coach Doug Schreiber and played his two seasons for him and his last two for Mark Wasikowski.

“Doug is tough,” says Olund. “I liked that. He was old school. We were going to work hard.

“Coach Waz brought a winning attitude. We build a culture of whatever it takes to win, we’re going to do that. We played hard, aggressive baseball.”

While at Purdue, he earned a degree in organizational management.

After his freshmen season, Alec was going to play in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League.

But his mother was diagnosed with skin cancer and he opted to stay close to home, playing with the Oilmen.

“Thankfully, it’s been gone now,” says Olund of the melanoma that was removed. “She’s been really healthy. I still pray for that everyday, that she stays healthy.”

Olund started dating Bell when he was a Lake Central senior and she was a sophomore. The daughter of Craig and Lisa Bell is now heading into her junior college basketball season at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne.

“There’s always constant support with her and her family,” says Alec. “They are really good people.”

The Olunds and Bells live about a minute apart in the Schererville area.

Playing sports at a high level is something else Alec and Rachel have in common.

“There’s a lot of things that she’s been through that I’ve been through,” says Olund. “I try to help her as much as I can. I also don’t want to dominate her life because I want her to experience it for herself.”

A middle infielder most of his Lake Central career, Olund moved to the outfield.

“They saw me as an outfielder in high school because I had a long arm and good speed,” says Olund. “They could use me in center field.”

Olund played some center field at Purdue and was then moved to right field.

“I feel I profile more as a center fielder,” says Olund. “I can track down balls really well.

“If I was in the infield, I’d profile more as a third baseman because I do have a long, strong arm. Those middle infielders have short, quick arms.”

ALECOLUNDTRAVERSECITY

Alec Olund, a Lake Central High School and Purdue University graduate, made his professional baseball debut June 17, 2018 with the independent Frontier League’s Traverse City Beach Bums. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Combs brings intensity, love for the game to Decatur Central baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Combs brought passion to the Decatur Central High School Hawks as a player and he’s still bringing it as he goes into his seventh season as head baseball coach in 2018.

Combs earned eight letters at DC in football, basketball and baseball. His head baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“I loved him from the get-go,” says Combs of the fiery leader. “Webby is the best one I’ve been around as far as taking a player and developing him. I matched him beat for beat in intensity.

“He had this attention to detail and got me understanding the game.”

Combs was part of a 2000 squad that won Conference Indiana, sectional and Marion County championships.

Webster, who would see his Hawks win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, put Combs in center field and used the right-hander as a No. 3 pitcher behind 2001 IHSBCA All-Star John Tolson and Matt Elder.

“In all the years I played and have coached, Tolson’s still the nastiest curve ball I’ve ever seen,” says Combs.

A decade after playing for him, Combs joined Webster as his varsity assistant and followed him as DC head coach in 2012. The two still talk regularly and Combs leads his program at Phil Webster Baseball Complex — aka “The Web.”

Combs graduated from Decatur Central in 2001 and played four seasons for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University, receiving a secondary education degree in 2005.

Farley used Combs in the outfield with a few games on the mound and taught many off-field lessons.

“There’s more to being a baseball player than playing baseball,” says Combs. “There being a good human being and a good student.”

Farley pointed his players toward community service opportunities and got them to work youth camps.

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

“I learned to control my emotions, which was always a problem with me,” says Combs. “If I slam down my helmet, I’ll find someone else standing at my position.

“I saw that it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”

Not that he figured out all his coach was telling him right away.

“When I was playing for him, I was not smart enough to realize how good of a coach he was,” says Combs. “A couple years later, when I became a coach, I figured out Coach Farley was right.”

Combs and Farley stay in touch and he had his former Butler boss address his DC team last season.

Doing his student teaching at Westfield High School, Combs was invited by Shamrocks head baseball coach Ryan Bunnell to join his staff and he wound up serving three seasons as junior varsity head coach and two as varsity assistant. He was there when Westfield, featuring current MLB catcher Kevin Plawecki, finished as 2009 IHSAA state runners-up.

“(Bunnell) taught me the ins and outs and logistics of being a head coach,” says Combs.

If it were possible, Combs would like to see every player get a chance to be a coach. By explaining the game to others, it will help their own understanding of baseball.

Jason’s baseball passion was first stoked by his father, Steve Combs. The retired fireman was a fixture at Carnine Little League in Rhodius Park on the near west side of Indianapolis and did everything from coaching to cutting grass.

It’s in that atmosphere that Combs developed into a fierce competitor.

“We had people who taught us how to compete,” says Combs. “It was grown-men baseball at 10 and 11 years old. You had to fight and not give up no matter what.

“I still embrace that today.”

Donna Combs was also supportive of Jason’s athletic exploits.

“She was a loving, caring, awesome woman,” says Jason of the mother who passed away in February 2017.

Jason’s older brother Josh graduated from Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1995. When Jason was in the eighth grade, the family moved into the Decatur Central district.

Along the way, the youngest Combs gained an affinity for the history of the game.

“You respect what happened before you,” says Combs, who teaches social studies at DCHS. “You know it, learn it and love it.”

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

He came home from school and watched Chicago Cubs games on TV and heard famed announcer Harry Caray telling stories about the game’s past.

Combs has watched Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series numerous times.

His favorite player was a tall shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr.

Decatur Central is part of the Mid-State Conference (along with Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland). Next year, Perry Meridian is to join the circuit.

“It’s a really good baseball conference,” says Combs. “It’s always been pretty even. It’s competitive and it will be again this year.”

MSC games are played in a Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series.

“You’ve got to prove it,” says Combs. “You can’t have one guy who can (pitch every conference game). You’ve got to have a team.”

There has been discussion in going to Friday night doubleheaders like the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“I like the way we do it,” says Combs.

There are 35 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity games. The coaching staff features Alan Curry (pitching coach), Ben Ferrell and Jeff McKeon with the varsity and Brandon Curry (Alan’s son) and Brayton Lake with the JV. Curry joined Combs in his second season as DC head coach and Ferrell in his third. McKeon was head coach at Plainfield High School and head coach of the South squad at the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars in Muncie last summer.

Recent Decatur Central graduate Jack Wohlert is a pitcher for Indiana University Southeast. Current seniors Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and Alex Mitchell (Indiana Tech) have made commitments and Austin Mitchell (twin brother of Alex) and Devin Gross are among those Combs expects to play college baseball.

The Hawks are scheduled to open the season with three games at historic Bosse Field in Evansville against Evansville Reitz, Evansville North and Indian Creek. Other 2018 non-conference opponents include Beech Grove, Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Homestead, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport, Speedway and Warren Central.

Decatur Central plays in a Class 4A sectional group with Ben Davis, Perry Meridian, Pike, Roncalli and Southport. The host rotation lands on Ben Davis this year.

Phil Webster is helping son and Pike head coach Todd Webster  this spring.

The Hawks last won the sectional in 2015 and the games were played at Decatur Central.

“I like to play a tough schedule,” says Combs. “You’ve got to get ready (for the IHSAA tournament) somehow. You’ve got to see what you’ve got.”

Located less than 10 miles apart, Decatur Central and Mooresville are backyard rivals.

Thanks to Webster and current Pioneers head coach Eric McGaha, the two baseball programs play each spring for the “Battle of 67” trophy.

The school that holds the trophy — currently Decatur Central — must be beaten on their own field to have it taken away. That means the “trophy” game in 2018 will come when Mooresville visits DC.

Mooresville is heading into its second season with artificial turf, causing many in the Decatur Central community to ask, “Are we next?”

Combs knows of no immediate plans for that kind of investment.

The coach is thankful for the assistance of Hawks athletic director and close friend Justin Dixson. They went to Decatur Central and Butler together and were in each other’s weddings.

“Within reason, he does just about anything I want,” says Combs.

Helping to feed the high school program are seventh grade and eighth grade teams at Decatur Middle School.

“I’m going to do that as long as we can,” says Combs. “There’s something to playing middle school baseball. We try to teach them our system. Plus they have to act right in school and stay eligible.”

Add Decatur Central Little League at Southeastway Park and travel baseball and some seventh graders are playing games with 60 feet between bases then 70 then 90 — sometimes in the same week.

“But the more you play, the more chances you have to get better,” says Combs. “We let the kids play where they feel comfortable.”

Jason and Jamie Combs reside in Decatur Township with daughters Amelia (5) and Josie (2).

JASONAMELIACOMBS

Decatur Central High School head baseball coach Jason Combs (left) embraces with oldest daughter Amelia following a game against Whiteland in 2017. DC graduate Combs heads into his seventh season as Hawks head coach in 2018.

 

Return to college swing helps Mets catcher Plawecki

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Six seasons into his professional baseball career, Kevin Plawecki went back to his college days and it helped him finish strong at the plate in 2017.

For the year, the former Purdue University catcher hit .328 in 64 games at Triple-A Las Vegas and .260 in 37 games (.348 in his last 10 appearances) with the big-league New York Mets.

Plawecki wore a Boilermakers uniform for three seasons (2010-12) and credits assistant coach Jeff Duncan (now head coach at Kent State University) for guiding his offensive game.

“(Duncan) got my swing where it needed to be in college,” says Plawecki, a right-hander. “He’s one of the best hitting coaches I’ve ever worked with. “He’s very relatable and very good at explaining what he believes in. He had been hitting to the middle of the field and the right side. He had me staying under my legs (with a wide stance). I drifted quite a bit in college and got away with it (even in the minors) because my hands worked so well.

“In the majors, I got exposed. Over the years, my stance got narrow and my hands were moving a lot.”

So with the help of Mets hitting coach Kevin Long (who moved on after the 2017 season), Plawecki studied films of his Purdue at-bats.

He again spread out his stance and his swing became shorter and more compact.

“It really allowed me to use my whole body, especially my legs,” says Plawecki, who turns 27 Feb. 26. “I had been getting more and more upright and it was causing more movement in my head, legs and hands. I was trying to be too perfect.”

It’s that swing he polished at Purdue that helped the 2009 Westfield High School graduate have a super 2012 campaign. That spring, he hit .359 with 47 runs batted in was second team All-America by Baseball America, Perfect Game USA and College Baseball Insider, finished as a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top collegiate catcher, semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy and became the Boilers’ first Big Ten Conference Player of the Year. He was also chosen as Most Outstanding Player in the Big Ten tournament and Purdue’s Male Athlete of the Year.

Plawecki struck out 29 times in 638 career at-bats with the Boilers.

The Mets made Plawecki a compensation pick in the first round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He was the third-highest Purdue player selected in program history. Only right-handed pitcher and Brebeuf Jesuit graduate Sherard Clinkscales (31st in 1992) and outfielder and Anderson Madison Heights graduate Jermaine Allensworth (34th in 1993) were picked earlier.

Plawecki was also Purdue’s highest draftee since 6-foot-6 right-hander and Mishawaka High School graduate Chadd Blasko was picked 36th overall in 2002.

The catcher made his MLB debut on April 21, 2015. He split time between the Mets and Triple-A in 2015, 2016 and 2017, playing a total of 158 games in the big leagues. He was on the Mets postseason roster for the National League Division Series, National League Championship Series and World Series, but did not see any game action.

In 2011 at Purdue, Plawecki hit .341 and drove in 39. He started 55 games — 45 at catcher, six at designated hitter and four at first base. The first-team all-Big Ten selection was a Johnny Bench Award semifinalist. That summer, played for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the Cape Cod League

His first collegiate season (2010), Plawecki led the the Boilers in batting average (.343) and established a Purdue freshman record for RBIs (53). He played 54 games and started 52 times, primarily at catcher. He was named a Freshman All-American by both Collegiate Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. His summer team was the Richmond (Ind.) RiverRats of the Prospect League.

Doug Schreiber was head coach at Purdue during Plawecki’s stay in West Lafayette.

“He was a hard-nosed guy,” says Plawecki of Schreiber (now head coach at McCutcheon High School). “He didn’t take a whole lot of crap from anybody. People respected him. He was always at the morning workouts with us. That goes a long way. He may not have been lifting, but he was up there grinding with us. He fought for us. He had our backs. That’s why we were so successful at Purdue.”

Plawecki grew up a Bolier fan. Several family members, including father Jeff (who was a member of the golf team), mother Lynne and brother Aaron, are Purdue graduates. Aaron is scheduled to complete graduate school at Northwestern University in December.

During Kevin’s freshmen year at Purdue, he met soccer player Tayler Francel and they married in 2015. The Plaweckis are spending their off-season in Arizona, where they are closer to her family in San Diego. He lifts weights four days a week and plans to begin throwing and hitting again in early January before heading to spring training with the Mets in Florida.

Plawecki, who was born in Hinsdale, Ill., and moved to central Indiana about the time he was beginning school, played travel baseball for the Westfield Indians in his early years then the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Dirt Bags before heading to Purdue.

He played many positions growing up, but settled in at catcher as a Westfield sophomore and got pointers from former Purdue backstop Mike Hansen, who is now on the Shamrocks coaching staff led by Ryan Bunnell.

“He helped me with drill work and set the foundation,” says Plawecki, who was part of Westfield’s IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up team in 2009. He was a two-time all-Indy North, all-Hoosiers Crossroads Conference and all-Hamilton County selection and earned four varsity letters in baseball at Westfield and was a team captain as a junior and senior. “I got bored everywhere else. I was not being very good anywhere else and a pretty good catcher. I like the involvement and challenge it brings.”

He gives many propers to his high school head coach.

“Burnell taught me ab out accountability,” says Plawecki. “I was just a young kid at the time, trying to find my way and stay out of trouble. That’s where my work ethic started. It started with those early-morning workouts. We were working hard and letting the results take care of themselves. I learned a lot from him — on and off the field.”

Now, Plawecki not only shares the field but catches some of the best pitchers in baseball. There’s Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo in the starting mix.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Plawecki of receiving the collection of aces. “It makes my job a lot easier. It also brings high expectations. Last year, we couldn’t stay healthy.”

Why all the injuries?

“It’s pretty crazy,” says Plawecki. I’ve never seen anything like it. If we could pin-point it as players or as trainers, we would have done it. Good thing is it’s just one year. We’ll learn from last year and be ready to go.”

Travis d’Arnaud, who played 112 games and hit .244 for the Mets in 2017, is ahead of Plawecki for the top spot on the The off-season MLB.com depth chart.

Can Plawecki win the starting job?

“I just try to go out and play and have fun,” says Plawecki. “I want to take advantage of the opportunity that given day. Leave that decision up to (the Mets).”

Mickey Calloway, who was pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians in 2017, is now the Mets manager. He has been quoted as saying he is considering letting starters go through the order twice before going to the bullpen. Some say this approach could tax the bullpen.

“He’s in-tune with pitching and what it takes to stay healthy,” says Plawecki. “If he thinks that’s the route to stay healthy then that’s what we’ll do. I don’t know if there is a perfect pitch count or innings limit. Everyone’s body is different.

“The success he had in Cleveland with those pitchers speaks volumes.”

Sabermetrics and analytics have become a big part of baseball. Data is used to decide where teams are going to position their defense against certain hitters.

“We don’t look at (the analytics) as much,” says Plawecki. “We’ve got a lot on our plates learning the weaknesses of the other players.”

Plawecki says the coaches are the ones who move the defenders. As a catcher, he calls the signals in stealing situations. Bunt coverages are called by the third baseman.

KEVINPLAWECKIMETS

Kevin Plawecki, a 2009 Westfield High School graduate and former Purdue University standout, is a catcher with the New York Mets. (New York Mets Photo)

 

Bunnell has Westfield playing with character, commitment

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Bunnell might change the words of his mantra from time to time to stay fresh.

But the head baseball coach at Westfield High School in Hamilton County, Indiana, continues to run a program based on character, commitment, hard work and extra effort.

“Everyone has influence,” says Bunnell. “How they use that influence is up to them.”

Bunnell has been in charge of the Shamrocks since the 2003 season, meaning 2017-18 is his 16th as coach and 15th as a WHS teacher.

The Rocks have won well over 200 games to go with three sectional (2008, 2009, 2011), one regional (2009), one semistate (2009) and one state runner-up finish (2009) plus four Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles (2009, 2010, 2013, 2015) on Bunnell’s watch.

Kevin Plawecki, who is now a catcher with the New York Mets, was a senior and batted No. 3 for Westfield in the 2009 IHSAA Class 4A State Finals then played at Purdue University before beginning his professional baseball career. Plawecki still stays in contact with Bunnell.

A 1991 graduate of Northwestern High School in Kokomo, where he played for coach Kent LeBeau, Bunnell put in one season at Huntington College (now Huntington University) for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame and finished his college studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Bunnell likes his Shamrocks to “stay in the present” and “control the controllable.”

Knowing when the make the right play and quality at-bats are valued highly by Westfield baseball. QAB points can come from hard-hit balls, walks, hit-by-pitch, stolen bases, dirt-ball reads and other things.

The Rocks look to “win the freebie war” — meaning they give up fewer walks, errors, etc., and seeks have more big innings (defined by three runs or more) than the opponents. They have crunched the numbers at Westfield and know the win percentage is high when the Rocks have more big innings than their foes.

It’s a philosophy Bunnell picked up at a clinic from former Mississippi State University coach John Cohen and it’s kind of thing that happened frequently in successful Westfield seasons like 2009.

Bunnell says the program usually sees up to 70 kids try out for about 50 spots on three teams — varsity and two junior varsity squads (Green and White). Having two JV units allows for flexibility and playing time. For instance, the Rocks had five catchers in the freshmen class in 2017 and just one among the sophomores.

Westfield’s 2018 coaching staff is to include John Oestreich (pitching coach), Mike Hansen (third base/catchers coach), Bill Lindsey (hitting/corner infielders coach), Kevin Entwistle (JV Green/outfielders coach) and Evan Kosmoski (JV White/pitching coach).

All JV home games are played at Grand Park with some varsity games being moved there if wet weather means the Rocks can’t play on-campus. With this relationship, Bullpen Tournaments is allowed to use the Westfield varsity field for some of its summer tournaments.

Feeding the program are recreation and 12U to 15U travel teams (Westfield Rocks) from Westfield Youth Sports, Inc., plus middle school squads that play at Shamrock Springs Elementary.

“Baseball is strong here for sure,” says Bunnell.

A portion of Bunnell’s summers is spent with wife Michell and four children (Kaylie, A.J., Cooper and Beau) and coaching with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

“They have been very good to me,” says Bunnell. “We don’t practice a whole lot in the summer. The crispness of the game gets away. We need that repetition in practice.”

The coach approves of the pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“These are young kids and they are still developing and kids are throwing harder than ever,” says Bunnell, who had tended to use his starters once a week during the regular season with a non-conference game on Tuesday and conference contests on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The past few seasons the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (which has featured Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Zionsville and will add Franklin Central in 2018-19) has employed a three-game series for baseball and Bunnell has been a fan of the format.

“You get a true conference champion,” says Bunnell. “I’ll be sad to see it go (if it goes away with the growth of the conference or reduction in the number of games allowed by the IHSAA).”

Currently, the association allows 28 games plus a tournament prior to the state tournament series.

If he had his way, the season would actually expand, state tournament stages would be seeded and championships would be determined by a series or at least through double-elimination.

“It would create excitement and it would be great to see it showcased that way,” says Bunnell. “We have to stop with the one-size-fits-all approach. Each sport has its uniqueness.”

With the HCC format, the Friday game under the lights has often drawn big crowds and taken on the atmosphere of prep football.

Of course more games would necessitate more time to get postseason games in and there are already issues now where sectional games have to be played from Wednesday through Monday and still adhere to pitch count rules.

Bunnell said this narrow window, the draw and variables like weather and graduation ceremonies can put teams on one side of the bracket at a serious disadvantage.

How would seeding work?

Bunnell notes that it is done in Ohio and rankings such as those produced by MaxPreps could be used.

“There are a lot of options,” says Bunnell.

To concentrate on mental toughness, Westfield athletes take part annually in Shamrock Advantage Week. In brief after-school sessions, speakers cover various topics like mindfulness, trust building and becoming an elite competitor. Bunnell has been one of those SAW presenters.

RYANBUNNELL1

Ryan Bunnell is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach at Westfield High School in 2017-18.

RYANBUNNELL2

Cherry has built a strong program from scratch at Fishers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the midst of an Indiana high school baseball hotbed, Fishers has grown its own crop of winning teams and productive student-athletes.

Matt Cherry is the only head coach the Tigers have ever known, starting the program from scratch and fielding the first varsity team in 2007.

There were a few growing pains at the beginning, but it took off from there and Fishers now holds its own in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville) and beyond.

Fishers heads into the Class 4A Westfield Sectional ranked No. 3 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association poll (Carmel and Indianapolis Cathedral are 1-2).

Off to a 24-4 start in 2017, those four defeats came by one run each (to Oakland, Tenn., Hamilton Southeastern, Avon and Carmel).

“I’m not sure that there were many cons to this experience,” says Cherry of starting up the program. “We have been able to build our own traditions and history.

“We created everything (uniforms, baseball logo, expectations of Tiger baseball on the field and in the classroom, annual traditions like how we do Senior Night … everything).”

Cherry, who grew up learning and loving the game from father Mark, is a 1998 graduate of New Castle Chrysler High School, where he played for Gary Brown. He played for and later coached with American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.

“Coach Brown was a great coach who held us to a high expectation on the field, but challenged me to be even better off the field,” says Cherry. “Coach Brown was intense on the field and a kind-hearted man off of it.”

New Castle went to semistate for the first time in 26 years in 1996 and was 21-2 and ranked No. 2 before losing in the 1998 sectional.

Cherry knows Alabama native Brandon as “Bama” and credits him for a major part in his development.

“Coach ‘Bama’ influenced me on the nurturing side of relating to players,” says Cherry. After an arm injury ended his playing career, Cherry was an AU assistant for two seasons, including the 2003 season when the Ravens placed third at the NCAA Division IIII World Series.

From Anderson assistant Brian York Cherry learned the importance of the little things in building a successful and winning program.

Todd Salkowski was football offensive coordinator at New Castle when Cherry played there and also left a lasting mark on Cherry.

“He is a winner in everything he does and taught me so much about the bigger picture beyond winning and losing,” says Cherry of Salkowski, now athletic director and girls basketball at Shenandoah High School. “I still use his favorite quote that said every week: ‘If what you did yesterday looks big to you today, then you haven’t done much today.’”

Cherry also counts high school baseball coaches Justin Keever (Noblesville), Ryan Bunnell (Westfield), Curry Harden (former Hamilton Southeastern head coach and current HSE assistant), Jake Burton (formerly of McCutcheon and now at Twin Lakes), Dave Ginder (Fort Wayne Carroll) and many more as mentors.

“I truly believe I have been called to be a teacher and a coach,” says Cherry, who was also a volunteer varsity assistant at Pendleton Heights (2005) and head JV coach at Hamilton Southeastern (2006). “Obviously, my competitive nature wants to win baseball games, but I believe there is far more to coaching than winning and losing.

“I believe I have been entrusted with these young lives to help develop them into young men who will be strong fathers, husbands, and citizens using the avenue of baseball to aid in this development.

“(Motivational speaker) Joe Ehrmann talks about the success of your program will be determined by who those young men become in 10-15 years, and I truly believe that is why I am a coach to help in that development process.”

On the field, Cherry’s emphasis is geared to the current crop of talent.

“I tend to be an extremely aggressive offensive coach trying to constantly put pressure on the opponent’s defense, while being more conservative on defense … taking outs as they come, making the routine play routinely as we race to be the first team to 21 outs.”

Fishers did play its first season without a senior class and had to learn how to win after a few losing seasons.

“Thankfully, we have been blessed with successful years recently, so we have been able to see the rewards of the hard work from all of our coaches and former players in our program,” says Cherry, whose 2017 staff include Darren Simms, Jeff Harkin, Brice Davis and Craig Huls with the varsity, Matt Poisel and Chris Hebert with the junior varsity and Rich Wender and Adam Glaze with the freshmen.

Simms has been with the program since the beginning. His responsibilities include outfielders, third base coach, defensive play caller, baserunning and bunting. He played at Anderson U. when Cherry was an assistant in 2003.

Harkin coaches first base and is assistant defensive play caller.

Davis, a 2008 Fishers graduate, is hitting coach.

Huls is pitching coach.

The HCC has adopted a three-game series. Cherry is a fan of the format.

“I am a huge proponent of the three-game series,” says Cherry. “It has forced us to develop depth with our pitching staffs. We now have three starts that pitch in huge conference games each week plus we must develop a bullpen to make it through the three games. In addition, we are able to develop a fourth starter to pitch in our non-conference games.

“We have some of the best coaches in the state in our conference competing against those guys night in and night out makes it a lot of fun,” says Cherry. “The coaches in our conference are not only great coaches, but great men as well. We have battles on the field, but were all friends off the field. All the coaches work really hard and have built strong baseball programs.

“The coaches in our conference make the three-game series a lot of fun, because they are work at creating scouting reports, pitching hitters certain ways, and positioning their defenses against the scouting report. This forces hitters to learn how to hit against good pitching. Our three-game series is a great opportunity to prepare our players who are going on to play college baseball. Our guys are playing in intense, meaningful games every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”

HCC are tight-knit lot.

We have some of the best coaches in the state in our conference and competing against those guys night in and night out makes it a lot of fun,” says Cherry. “The coaches in our conference are not only great baseball coaches, but great men as well. 

“We have battles on the field, but we are all friends off the field.  All the coaches work really hard and have built strong baseball programs.”

The ’17 Tigers went unbeaten at home. The school recently re-configured the fence foul line to enclose the bullpens. From the outfield end of the dugouts the fence line angles towards the outfield and then runs parallel down the foul line to the outfield fence (similar to Wrigley Field).

“Our fence line is not as close to fair territory as Wrigley, but it is a lot closer than many high school fields, which gives is a unique setting,” says Cherry, an IHSBCA district representative and a member of the ABCA and National High School Baseball Coaches Association (BCA).

MATTCHERRY

Matt Cherry is the only head baseball coach Fishers High School has ever known, starting the program from scratch and fielding the first varsity team in 2007.

Keeping Kokomo Wildkats on even-keel duty of Swan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Not every hop is true.

Not every line drive off your bat finds grass before it finds an opponent’s glove.

Not letting those moments keep you down is key to long-term success.

These are the kinds of things Kokomo High School head baseball coach Sean Swan is teaching his Wildkats.

Swan was a Kokomo assistant for four seasons before taking over leadership of the program for the 2015 season. That year, he had six freshmen in the starting lineup. The young Kats had the talent to compete, but were not always equipped for baseball’s inevitable rough patches.

“We prepare these young men to go out and do great things whether it’s in baseball or just life,” says Swan. “We use the game to teach those lessons. We talk about failure a lot. Failure is something you have to work through and how you can learn from it.

“We’ve made great strides in dealing with failure and adversity. We’re not perfect yet and I tell the kids we’re not going to be. Baseball is like that. You’re going to have games where things don’t go your way and you don’t play your best.”

Swan talks to his players about being mental toughness and playing a hard-nosed brand of baseball.

That approach got Kokomo off to a 14-0 start in 2017 even though it found itself down by 13 runs in one of those victories. The Kats fell behind 14-1 in the second game of a North Central Conference doubleheader against Lafayette Harrison only to win 21-18 with the decisive run coming at the end of the game.

“I was pleased we stuck with the process and kept fighting,” says Swan. “I want our guys to be very even-keeled. We talk about playing with emotion but not emotionally. We tell them to focus on playing the game the right way and not so much on who they’re playing against.”

When Kokomo took its first loss of the season — 12-1 to Zionsville — the Kats responded with a 2-1 NCC tournament quarterfinal win against Harrison in eight innings.

The ’17 Kats have 43 players on three squads — varsity and two junior varsity teams (Blue and Red).

Swan’s varsity coaching staff includes Tim Weir (pitching), Eric Dill (infield and hitting), Nick Shanks (outfield and statistics), Shawn Mayfield (hitting) and George Phares (quality control). There’s also Eli Grimes (JV Blue head coach), Andy Dicken (JV Blue assistant), Matt Turner (JV Red head coach) and Chris Beane (JV Red assistant).

Weir is the father of T.J. Weir, a Kokomo graduate and a pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization.

Phares, a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Howard County Sports halls of fame who won an IHSAA Class 2A state championship at Taylor in 2000, serves as an extra set of eyes. He scouts the Kats and gives Swan an honest evaluation on areas that need improvement.

“Sometimes as a head coach, you have blinders and get focused on what you’re trying to accomplish and you miss some things,” says Swan of Phares. “He challenges me in some areas.

“The guys on my staff are great baseball men, but great men in general. I want quality individuals that are high-character people.”

Kokomo once played at historic Highland Park Stadium and practice and play on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium, home to the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League.

“We are blessed,” says Swan. “It’s one of the best fields in the state.”

With its fast surface, playing not the carpet has been an adjustment. Even softly-struck balls sometimes get through the infield and outfielders are asked to play deeper in an attempt to keep balls out of the gaps.

At all games — but especially at Municipal — the Kats look to put pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play.

“We try to be aggressive and get pitches we can drive,” says Swan. “Early in counts we want them to be sitting on fastballs. After the count gets deeper or they fall behind in the count, their (strike) zone expands a little bit. They shorten up their swing and then it’s about putting balls in play.”

Swan looks at the new pitch count rule and says it has more of an effect at the JV level than the varsity.

“We build up (varsity) players so they can throw 80 to 100 pitches and we’re comfortable with that,” says Swan. With varsity depth, starters generally pitch just once a week. “But the rule makes us be forward-thinking with our younger guys. We have two junior varsity teams and they’re not efficient with their pitches.

“Bigger schools it won’t effect quite as much, but I really see it effect JV programs, especially at small schools. They just don’t have that depth. They don’t have the arms to eat up innings.”

Swan, a Muncie Central graduate, began his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater while still in college.

His first head coaching job came at Lapel. The Bulldogs won just one game the year before he arrived and a few years later won a sectional.

Swan then served five years as assistant to Ryan Bunnell at Westfield and considers him a mentor.

“I learned a great deal from him,” says Swan. “He’s a great baseball guy.

“I tend to be more emotional and he’s very steady. He’s great with X’s and O’s and I watched how he drew up a practice plan.”

Swan was head coach at Tri-Central for three seasons before joining Tim Weeks’ staff at Kokomo, where Swan also now serves as assistant principal.

SEANSWAN

Sean Swan is in his third season as head baseball coach at Kokomo High School. He was an assistant for the Wildkats for four seasons before that. He is also an assistant principal at KHS.