Tag Archives: San Diego Padres

IHSBCA South All-Stars head coach McKeon sports diamond pedigree

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

B-A-S-E-B-A-L-L demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

So says Jeff McKeon, who has been chosen as South head coach for this weekend’s 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. Practices, junior showcase and banquet are slated for Friday, July 14, with two games Saturday, July 15, and one game Sunday, July 16, at Ball State University in Muncie.

“I believe you must respect the game,” says McKeon, who resigned as head coach at Plainfield High School after the 2017 season (Shane Abrell has been named as his successor). “Once you cross that line, you have to give 100 percent every single time. The game will humble you in a second. If you ever think you are bigger than the game, it will strike back at you in a second.”

McKeon, who led the Quakers to a 94-75 record in his six seasons, was an assistant at three schools prior to Plainfield — one season for Jason Engelbrecht at Evansville Central, two for Steve Johnston at Evansville Reitz and six for Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg.

At Plainfield, McKeon got to be the host coach for the IHSAA’s South semistate games. The field has two berms for spectators and a scoreboard in center field.

Coming from Evansville, where iconic Bosse Field and other parks all have unique features, McKeon likes that the facility is not a “cookie-cutter.”

“I’m a big baseball purist,” says McKeon. “The ballpark should be part of the experience.

“Plainfield has some uniqueness to it.”

A 1993 Evansville North High School graduate, his high school coach was Dan Sparrow. He was a catcher and then a middle infielder at Ashford University in Iowa, graduating in 1997. He also worked two years for the Clinton LumberKings as an intern, grounds crew worker and clubhouse assistant and one for the Birmingham Barons as assistant GM for concessions and in sales.

Jeff comes from a baseball family. He is the son of former minor league catcher and scout and current Evansville Otters radio analyst Bill McKeon. In 2010, Bill was briefly the Otters manager with Jeff as a coach.

Bill McKeon and Joe Unfried, Jeff’s uncle, were teammates on the 1956 Evansville Braves of the Class B Three-I League and founded the non-profit Tri-State Hot Stove League in 1993.

The ’55 Evansville Braves were owned and managed by Bob Coleman. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inducted Coleman in 1980.

Coleman, Engelbrecht, Johnston, Sparrow and Unfried, are all members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class in 2016.

Bill’s older brother and Jeff’s uncle is Jack McKeon, the manager for the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins. Jack also served as skipper for the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds.

In his first off-season as general manager of the Padres, he began to rebuild the club with a series of deals and became known as “Trader Jack.”

Jack’s sons have also been involved in professional baseball. Kasey McKeon was a catcher in the Detroit Tigers system and is now director of player procurement for the Washington Nationals.

Kelly McKeon has scouted for the Padres, where he signed Greg Booker, son-in-law to Jack, brother-in-law to Kasey and Kelly father of former Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer Zach Booker. Greg Booker is now a pro scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I’ve had some good mentors,” says McKeon, who is a business teacher at Plainfield and IHSBCA vice president on a leadership team that has included Brian Abbott as executive director, Shane Edwards (Oak Hill), Kevin Hannon (Knox), Scott Hughes (Shelbyville), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Phil McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central) and Ricky Romans (Charlestown).

“Those are awesome guys,” says McKeon. “They are great coaches and even better men. Being with those guys has been life-altering for me.”

Fundamentals and instruction are important to McKeon, who has thrown countless hours of batting practice trying to turn weaknesses into strengths.

“I’ve worked with a lot of very good players,” says McKeon. “But you win not with best players, you win with the role player that has to step up.”

McKeon, who is in charge of vendors at the IHSBCA State Clinic in January, will serve as a vice president in 2017-18 and is due to be president the following year.

This year marked his third as South representative and coach for the Crossroads Series, held the past two season at Ball State.

With Rich Andriole as head coach, the South swept the North in three games at Whiting in 2016.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” says McKeon, who will be assisted by Brad Catey (Hagerstown), Justin Tucker (Batesville), John Major (Columbus East) and have a Plainfield Quaker on the roster for the third straight year. It’s first baseman Daylan Nanny (bound for Arizona Western College) in 2017. Outfielder/first baseman Jackson Blevins was selected in 2016 and went on to Saint Joseph’s College. He is playing for the Dubois County Bombers this summer. After the closing of SJC, Blevins is slated to play at Wabash College in 2017-18.

Pitcher Antonio Lucciola represented Plainfield in the North/South series in 2015.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to be recognized for their accomplishments,” says McKeon.

Jeff and wife Liz have a son and a daughter — Gavin (9) and Katie (5).

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Jeff McKeon, head baseball coach at Plainfield High School 2012-17, will be head coach for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.

Fans keep turning out to see Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Downtown Fort Wayne has become a destination and TinCaps baseball is a big reason.

The minor league team welcomed a franchise-record 413,701 fans to Parkview Field for 68 dates in 2016 and was only slightly behind that pace in 2017 — the ninth at the ballpark on Ewing Street.

Fort Wayne, a San Diego Padres affiliate, drew 252,305 for its first 45 dates, including a single-game record 9,266 on July 4.

“The city has embraced us,” says TinCaps president Mike Nutter. “The people keep coming. It’s been an unbelievable 8 1/2 years and we just want to keep it going.”

A combination of exciting, young talent and ballpark amenities attracts fans from around the region.

“It’s an incredible sports market,” says Nutter, who notes that folks who who root for the Cubs, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Reds and Cardinals agree that the TinCaps are their local team.

Before the streak was stopped in 2016, Fort Wayne had made the playoff seven straight seasons — a mark not matched in the minors or the majors.

Some people come to the park for the food and the promotions, but others want to see a winner and fondly recall the first season at Parkview when Fort Wayne, managed by Doug Dascenzo, won the 2009 Midwest League championship. Led by right-hander Mat Latos, 19 of those players landed in the big leagues.

Nutter has been with the franchise since the fall of 1999. The Fort Wayne Wizards played at the former Memorial Stadium from 1993-2008 and were affiliated with the Minnesota Twins through 1998.

“We were doing that and thought it was great,” says Nutter of the Memorial Stadium days. “We had a hard-working group.”

Current vice presidents David Lorenz, Brian Schackow and Michael Limmer were with the club in those days.

Before coming to the Summit City, Nutter had been in Nashville and watched that ownership have trouble getting a new ballpark (which eventually happened in 2015) so he knew new digs in Fort Wayne were not a sure thing.

“We didn’t know how realistic it was,” says Nutter. “Then it started to get legs and it started to move.”

The TinCaps are run by Hardball Capital. Jason Freier is chairman and CEO of that group, which also runs the Chattanooga Lookouts and Columbia Fireflies.

One idea TinCaps management had when they moved across town is still in place.

“When we came downtown we said lawn seats would be 5 bucks. We liked the way that sounded,” says Nutter. “At the old ballpark — again, not being criticial of it — the cheapest ticket was $6.50. Here was are in Year 9 and they’re still 5 bucks.”

Whether paying $5 or for more-expensive seats, patrons can see a TinCaps team that features three 18-year-olds in the starting infield, including Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop, Hudson Potts at third base and Reinaldo Ilarraza at second base.

Tatis, son of former MLB player Fernando Tatis Sr., has already been MWL Player of the Week twice in 2017 — the first Fort Wayne player to do that since Rymer Liriano in 2011. Baseball Prospectus ranks the young Tatis No. 22 among its Midseason Top 50 prospects.

“On a nightly basis, he stands out as the most-exciting player on the field,” says Sam Geaney, Padres director of player development. “From his raw ability and a lot of his performances, there’s a lot of positives.

“I love the way he plays. It seems like he enjoys playing the game.”

The Padres organization has definitely turned to teens to turn things around and that includes Fort Wayne.

“We are one of the youngest teams in the league,” says Geaney. “We understand there are going to be some growing pains.

“We had a lot of international signings. We have two 17-year-olds (Luis Almanzar and Justin Lopez) and an 18-year-old (Kelvin Melean) at (rookie-level) Tri-City playing on a nightly basis.

“When you sign guys from Latin America, for the most part those guys will be younger — 16 or 17 years old. It’s very clear with our staff that we’re trying to find the best players.”

Slugging first baseman Brad Zunica is a returnee from 2016.

“He’s just continuing to mature,” says Geaney of Zunica. “He had his first full professional season last year. There’s a maturing process that comes with that. He continues to tighten up his swing.

“With the combination of mechanical things and professional development, we’re going to see some results this year.”

With a re-worked pitching staff nurtured by veteran coach Burt Hooton, Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras had his team off to a 12-7 start in the second half after a league-worst 26-44 performance in the first half.

Michel Baez, a 6-foot-8 Cuban right-hander, made his first start in front of a paying crowd on American soil in the July 4 game and impressed by pitching five innings of two-hit shutout baseball with nine strikeouts

“The future is bright I think for the TinCaps in the second half and I know for the Padres in the future,” says Nutter.

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Fort Wayne coach, toolmaker Dunno helps pitchers gain velocity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana baseball man and toolmaker has combined his know-how in both areas to create a training device that has been embraced by professional and college teams.

Rich Dunno, a former college and current youth coach and owner and CEO of Ground Force Sports in Fort Wayne, has been making the King of The Hill to promote the importance of leg drive in the pitching motion.

Dunno says proper leg drive increases velocity and decreases stress on the pitching arm.

“As a pitching coach, I always knew you needed to use the legs,” says Dunno, who once led hurlers at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., and still gives lessons. “Back then it was called leg drive, now it’s more or less known as ground force.”

In working with young pitchers, he noticed that as they pushed the indoor mound back with their back leg their speed went up.

Dunno took his engineering background to develop a device that would let the pitchers know when they were properly getting the load on their back leg to transfer energy through the kinetic chain which ended with them delivering the baseball.

When pushed back 3/16 of an inch, the top plate of King of The Hill (www.trainwiththeking.com) makes a clacking sound.

“There is an auditory reward,” says Dunno. “When they hear (the pop of the plate moving back), they know they’re doing it right.

“It’s like Pavlov’s Dogs. Everytime they heard that bell — ding, ding, ding — he knew it was time to eat.

“Even in the big leagues, they want to hear that noise. If you don’t do it correctly, you don’t hear anything.”

The device, which has gone through some evolution in the four years since Dunno began tinkering the with the concept, has an adjustable spring that can be tightened to increase the force it takes to move the mound back.

When Dunno, a 1981 Fort Wayne North Side High School graduate who played for Myron Dickerson and then Dale Doerffler his last two prep seasons, first began to study pitching, he found two basic styles: Drop-and-drive (think Tom Seaver) and Stand Tall-and-fall (used by many pitchers).

“More and more, they are finding out that the healthier pitchers use the ground force through that (kinetic) chain,” says Dunno. “They did studies that showed faster throwers created more force off the back leg. We want energy in that front foot that cause the hips to rotate.

“It’s a kinetic chain reaction.”

Dunno has learned the Major League Baseball players are resistant to change and yet 20 MLB teams, including the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres use the King of the Hill (or King of the Swing which helps hitters create a back-side load prior to the weight transfer) to be used by their big league and minor league clubs.

Dunno was at Wrigley Field in Chicago last week meeting with San Diego bullpen coach Doug Bochtler, hitting coach Alan Zinter and was introduced to the Padres bench coach.

“(Zinter) and Mark McGwire say they love it because the kids can not only feel themselves doing it, but hear themselves,” says Dunno. “They know instantly whether they’re doing it right.”

Noting that “mass times acceleration equals power,” some strong hitters can get away with moving their upper body and “squashing the bug” while driving the ball.

“Some of the smaller guys like (Javier) Baez and (Bryce) Harper, they have to create more kinetic energy — getting the hips and upper body to rotate to create that power. If you see a video, watch what they do. Their back leg comes off the ground because they are accelerating so fast.”

A handle makes it mobile to place on mounds, in batter’s boxes, wherever.

Dunno has a couple of patents and he is entertaining an appearance on the Shark Tank TV show.

With the same process of transferring energy in mind, Dunno has devised a Queen of the Hill for fast pitch softball and he is working on trainers for football, track and other sports.

He has even come up with a line of tacky, all-weather “bat snot” — an answer to pine tar sticks — to give hitters a better grip.

KINGOFTHEHILL

The King of the Hill leg drive trainer, devised by Fort Wayne-based coach and toolmaker Rich Dunno of Ground Force Sports, has been adopted by many Major League Baseball organizations and college programs. (Ground Force Sports Photo)

RICHDUNNO

The blogger meets Rich Dunno, creator of The King of the Hill, King of the Swing, Queen of the Hill and more.

 

Creating opportunities, building character among goals of Michiana Scrappers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With its focus on competition, instruction and development, the Michiana Scrappers travel organization is in its 14th season in 2017.

Began in 2004 with one 15/16 squad — the School of Hard Knocks Scrappers — the Michiana Scrappers now have 17 baseball teams in age groups 9U through 17U (the organization is also involved in softball, basketball and hockey).

There are 260 baseball players and 38 softball players currently playing in tournaments around the Midwest — put on by Baseball Player’s Association, Pastime, United States Speciality Sports Association, Bullpen and others — and training out of The Scrap Yard in Elkhart.

Teams practice twice a week January to April and one to two times a week during the season, which concludes in late July or early August. Tryouts for 2018 are slated for July 29-30 and Aug. 5-6.

Players 9U to 14U are often invited back for the next season. All players 15U and above are asked to try out.

Scrappers founder Brian Blondell reports a low turnover rate of 8 percent.

“Most kids in our organization are not leaving,” says Blondell. “We’re usually filling 1-2 spot max per team.”

Once players try out, coaching staffs will have a chance to offer their sales pitch to the families of players they want. Trying to find the best fit is a priority.

About the time the Scrappers came along, summer high school programs were decreasing and travel ball was growing so then-South Bend St. Joseph assistant Blondell found a place for Indians head coach John Gumpf to send his players in the summer.

“We learned a lot,” says Blondell, who is also director of player operation and a 14U head coach in 2017. In 2005, the organization had swelled seven teams and with interest the growth continued.

Softball was added to the mix in 2014.

While Blondell and his coaches, including Greg Fozo and Buddy Tupper with the current 14U squad, are just as competitive as anyone and the Scrappers have won their share of tournaments, win-at-all-costs is not the driving force.

“Nobody is gaining anything by winning a trophy,” says Blondell. “We’re trying to be as competitive as we possibly can be. The era we’re in — with a lot of parents — everything is driven by awards, placement and trophies.

“We focus on development. If we develop correctly, we’re going to win a lot of championships.”

With a few exceptions, Scrappers players come from the counties surrounding South Bend and Elkhart.

While players are working to make themselves better and — for the older players — get college exposure for themselves, the Scrappers emphasize that baseball is a team game.

“It’s not an individual sport,” says Blondell, the pitching coach at Elkhart Memorial High School (Crimson Chargers head coach Scott Rost and assistant Bruce Baer are Scrappers head coaches) and former head coach at Indiana University South Bend, Holy Cross College and South Bend Riley High School. “We’re about growing and developing a team environment.”

The implied daily question to players: How are you helping our team get better?

After all, high school and college coaches want good teammates and not selfish players.

Distinguished Scrapper alums include Evan Miller (LaPorte H.S.; IPFW; San Diego Padres system), Chad Whitmer (Penn H.S.; Southern Illinois U.; New York Yankees system), Nathan Thomas (Mishawaka Marian H.S.; Northern Illinois U.), Brock Logan (Northrdge H.S.; IPFW), Blake Cleveland (NorthWood H.S.; Central Michigan U.), Shannon Baker (Northridge H.S.; IPFW), Brett Carlson (South Bend Riley H.S.; Austin Peay U.; Purdue U.) and Pat Borlik (South Bend Washington H.S.; Western Michigan U.).

Just like Sam Riggleman — his coach at Bethel College — said to Blondell, Scrappers are expected to “check their ego at the door.”

“We do everything as a team,” says Blondell, whose son Bryce Blondell plays on his squad. “I also want it to feel like family. We allow them to be kids and really enjoy it.”

Mike Logan, head coach of a 16U team in 2017, is in his 11th season with the Scrappers.

The former Northridge High School head coach sees his job as getting college exposure, building up their baseball skills and teaching them life lessons.

Logan tells players and their parents about college opportunities and stresses the academic side of the equation.

“A lot of times schools might not have much athletic money to give,” says Logan. But there is bound to be funds for good students.

Logan points players toward showcases and sends out weekly emails to college coaches giving them the Scrappers schedules, roster, contact numbers and more.

With players coming from so many different backgrounds, Logan and his assistants — Brian Bishop and Chad Sherwood — stay with the fundamentals and build on their foundation of skills.

Most importantly to Logan is developing “young men of character.”

“This game can teach you about failure,” says Logan. “You get to learn to handle adversity at a young aage. When they become adults, it’s for real.”

Logan, which coached older son Brock with the Scrappers and now is with younger son Nick, sees a group of players that it is talented enough to be successful on the diamond and is also tight off the field.

One group text message and the boys are off the movies together.

It’s this kind of philosophy which drew the former Indiana Dirt Devils from the Fremont area to join the organization in 2017 as the 13U Black Scrappers.

“The kids in that organization are amazing,” says 13U pitching coach Geoff Gilbert. “They support each other. (Younger players) know who the better older kids in our organization are they talk about them all the time. They look up to them.

“I brag on my team all the time and they are pretty good, but our kids are even better young men than they are baseball players.”

The Dirt Devils won two BPA World Series titles, finished second in another and high in yet another before hooking up with Blondell and company.

“The Scrappers have a great reputation,” says Gilbert, who counts son and left-hander Carter Gilbert among his pitchers. “They have big-name recognition. We were a little tiny team in a little tiny pond and couldn’t get kids to try out with us. We’ll be drawing from a much bigger talent pool.”

As a single-team organization, the Dirt Devils dictated everything. With the Scrappers, where Blondell handles all the administrative matters, Gilbert, head coach Brian Jordan and assistant Michael Hogan retain control over their roster and some say in their schedule while also benefitting from the bulk buying power of a larger organization which is sponsored by DeMarini and Wilson.

“With everything they had to offer in the winter, it was a great opportunity,” says Gilbert, who works a few nights a week at the Scrap Yard and has daughter Ava Gilbert playing for the 10U Lady Scrappers team. “We decided to make the switch.”

With players spread out, 13U Black practices one day a week in Ashley (near Fremont and Kendallville) and once at either Pierre Moran or Riverview parks in Elkhart or Newton Park in Lakeville. The older teams practice at Elkhart Memorial, Elkhart Central or South Bend Washington high schools. Scrappers softball practices are conducted at Penn High School.

While players 15U and above tend to play after the high school season is over, the younger teams like 13U Black play 10 to 12 tournaments in the spring and summer.

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The Michiana Scrappers 13U Black players and families celebrate the Fourth of July. in 2017 (Michiana Scrappers Photo)

 

Diamondbacks’ Bryk still learning after decades around baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bill Bryk is a grateful guy.

He has his health and he has a job he thoroughly enjoys.

Bryk began his professional baseball odyssey as a player in 1969.

At 66 and a cancer survivor, the Schererville resident is still in pro ball in his seventh season special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I’ve been cancer-free for four years. Thank the Good Lord,” says Bryk, who lost a daughter, Becky, to leukemia and friend and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to salivary gland cancer. “I’ve been blessed to be in this game as long as I have. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“It’s time to give back to the game.”

The former Bill Brykczysnki grew up on the south side of Chicago, graduated from Thornridge High School in Dolton, Ill., and pitched four seasons in the Washington Senators organization. He started coaching college ball in 1974 and managing independent teams in 1977.

He worked with the San Diego Padres 1979-82, managing Gwynn in Walla Walla in 1981. When Gwynn was inducted at Cooperstown in 2007, Bryk was his guest.

In 1982, he left the Padres to work for the Pittsburgh Pirates, both in scouting and player development. Over the next 18 years, Bryk would work as a scouting supervisor, special assignment scout, assistant scouting director, assistant farm director, national cross-checker and pitching coordinator.

“That’s where I really learned the business,” says Bryk.

In November 2010, he joined the Diamondbacks.

Almost five decades in, Bryk is still gaining knowledge.

“I’m still learning,” says Bryk, the 2013 Midwest Scout of the Year. “We’ve got sabermetrics, analytics — all this stuff.”

Arizona, where Mike Hazen is executive vice president and general manager, has three major league scouts (Todd Greene and Mike Piatnik are the other two) with duties divided up among the 30 MLB teams.

Based in northwest Indiana where he’s called home since 1988, Bryk goes out to scout the 10 teams in the American League Central and National League Central. He keeps a report on every player, logging their strengths and weaknesses.

“Are they getting better or getting worse?,” says Bryk. “But — most importantly — what’s inside of them? Are they gamers? Overachievers? Underachievers?

“(Major league scouts are) more detectives more than anything else. You’ve got to find everything you can on them. That’s where contacts come in. You have people you trust in every organization. When you get old and gray-headed you know more people.”

One baseball person who Bryk has known for a long time is Mark Haley. He scouted the California native as a player and has maintained a friendship as Haley has coached and managed in the White Sox and Diamondbacks systems (he is now director of training and instruction of the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and coaches travel baseball).

Bryk, who advises on player trades, acquisitions and roster

moves, has seen all his assigned teams once already and is going back for another look. He plans to take in the Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians series and see New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox after that.

“I’m tightening up my reports,” says Bryk, who will meet with other pro scouts in Arizona at the end of June to discuss organizational needs (as the July 31 trade deadline looms). “We used to do it a little bit later. A lot of teams don’t know if they’re going to be buyers or sellers yet.”

Since he is a pro scout, Bryk was not directly involved with the recent Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He did attend a post-draft Pro Day hosted Tuesday, June 20 by the Hammond Lakers.

“There were 65 hungry guys — guys worth seeing,” says Bryk of the free tryout event held by Lakers general manager Anthony Spangler. “We gave everybody a fair chance.”

Bryk notes that independent baseball still brings talent to the majors. Evidence of that is David Peralta. The outfielder played American Association before being signed by the Diamondbacks. He went 4-for-5 Wednesday, June 21 vs. the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

Chris Carminucci, Arizona’s independent league coordinator and pro scout, runs independent league tryout camps during spring training in Arizona and in the Chicago suburbs at the home of the Windy City Thunderbolts. That team just sent several players into affiliated baseball, including pitcher Brady Muller to the Diamondbacks.

Hammond Bishop Noll High School graduate Matt Pobereyko, a former Diamondbacks minor leaguer, just signed with the New York Mets organization after spending time with the independent Florence (Ky.) Freedom.

“I’m glad to see he got another chance,” says Bryk of Pobereyko. “I had more 53rd-rounders make it than high draft picks.”

Rob Mackowiak, a 1994 Lake Central High School graduate, was drafted by Bryk for the Pirates in the Round 53 (when the draft went that deep). The outfielder/third baseman made over 2,600 plate appearances in the majors with the Pirates, White Sox, Padres and Washington Nationals.

“It’s what’s in their heart,” says Bryk in determining who makes it or not. “How much do they want it?”

Even with 40 MLB Draft rounds now, talent is sometimes missed and those players can sometimes get a second chance.

“Scouting is not an exact science,” says Bryk. “You try to make the best decisions you can. Sometimes guys are late bloomers. I ran 20 camps a year as an area scout with the Pirates.”

Bryk also gives back to baseball as an instructor in the winter months at the Morris Baseball and Softball Center inside Omni 41 in Schererville.

Sometimes an agent will send a player to Bryk to straighten out his mechanics.

One such player is Dominican right-hander Ariel Hernandez, who worked with Bryk and his son, Billy Bryk Jr., who has coached in independent and affiliated baseball.

Hernandez has been averaging nearly 99 mph with his four-seam fastball out of the bullpen for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017.

Bryk says he did not charge the agent for his services. It was just a part of giving back to baseball.

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Bill Bryk began his association with professional baseball in 1969. At 66, the Schererville, Ind., resident is in his seventh season as special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Arizona Diamondbacks Photo)

 

Teenagers big part of excitement for 2017 Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana has a number of talented teenagers on the diamond.

Not all of those are wearing high school uniforms.

Some are professionals.

As the the Fort Wayne TinCaps (affiliate of the San Diego Padres) get ready to being the 2017 Class-A Midwest League season, they sport a roster with six teenagers and four 20-year olds.

“There’s been a lot of hype and talk about this group,” says Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras, who returns for a second season as skipper at Parkview Field. “I want to see what it looks like under the bright lights.

“It’s going to be fun to watch them.”

Fernando Tatis Jr. will be the TinCaps’ 18-year-old shortstop when the season opens Thursday, April 6 at Bowling Green (the home opener is at 6:05 p.m. on Saturday, April 8).

“He’s a very dynamic young player,” says Contreras of the 6-foot-3 power-hitting athlete from the Dominican Republic. “He’s got some of the best pop I haven’t  seen in awhile.”

Contreras expects Tatis to keep things loose while also bringing some of his unique experiences to the team.

“I’m here to have fun and do what I do,” says the son of major leaguer Fernando Tatis Sr. “It’s fun (being around other young players). We have the same mentality.”

The young Tatis grew up around big league clubhouses.

“He knows what it’s like to be a professional in this game,” says Contreras. “He’s going to thrive in this type of atmosphere.”

Contreras (age 33) and his coaching staff will be looked upon to develop the young talent for the Padres.

“There’s a a lot of pressure put not the minor league side,” says Contreras. “They’ve invested a lot of money (in player development).”

With many players who have yet to experience the grind of a 140-game season, the manager knows he will have to manage the inevitable bad days.

“That’s minor league baseball,” says Contreras. “That’s the experience they have to go through. When they move up and get the major leagues, they’re going to fail as well so you want to address it but not dwell on it.

“A lot of these guys are going to go through some slumps for the first time. It’s my job and the staff’s job to keep them focused.”

Besides Tatis, Contreras expects his regulars to include third baseman Hudson Potts (18), second baseman Eguy Rosario (17) with G.K. Young (22) and Brad Zuinca (21) sharing time at first base and Reinaldo Ilarraza, (18) playing various infield positions.

“We should have a very good team, from what I saw in spring training,” says Young. “These young guys don’t play like young guys. They can swing just like grown men.”

Young played with NCAA Division I national champion Coastal Carolina in 2016.

“Going through the College World Series, I understand what it takes to win at a championship level,” says Young. “I can honestly say I was not ready in high school to come and do this, but some things I went through mentally (in college) strengthened me to go through this game.”

Fort Wayne’s outfield includes Jack Suwinski (18) in left, Buddy Reed (21) in center and Jorge Ona (20) in right.

Marcus Greene Jr. (22) and Webster Rivas (26) will take turns at catcher.

A six-man starting pitching rotation includes (in order): right-hander Jesse Scholtens (22), left-hander Logan Allen (19), right-hander Austin Smith (20), left-hander Jerry Keel (23), right-hander Hansel Rodriguez (20) and left-hander Will Headean (23).

Burt Hooton is back for his fifth season as Fort Wayne’s pitching coach.

The 67-year-old is teaching his young arms to “keep things simple and keep progressing.”

“I tell them not to bite off more than they can handle,” says Hooton, who was a big leaguer for 15 seasons.  “You want to master your pitches and take the time to do it.

“You learn from your experiences — both good and bad.”

Fort Wayne’s bullpen includes returnees like right-hander David Bednar (22) and Lou Distasio (23) as well as right-hander Mark Zimmerman (23) and Ben Sheckler (21).

“There are no roles defined,” says Hooton. “They’re in the bullpen and, a lot of times, we’re going to use them when it’s their turn to pitch. We’ll use two or three guys to close out games. We’ll use two or three guys as long (relievers).”

Doug Banks (32) is the TinCaps hitting coach.

The former scout is telling his young players to focus on the positives.

“The biggest thing with these guys is that they trust themselves and they stick to their approach — whatever it is that night — and they believe in themselves,” says Banks. “That’s a big one.

“I’m exciting about this season. I hope they live up to the potential they have.”

As a young coach in the Texas Rangers organization, Banks learned from veteran baseball minds Ron Washington, Clint Hurdle and Mike Maddux and watched veteran Michael Young and Josh Hamilton.

“That was a big opportunity for me,” says Banks.

And opportunity is what’s in store for these young Fort Wayne TinCaps.

FORTWAYNETINCAPS

Former big leaguer Stults explains importance of mental game to campers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

To pitch at high levels — college or pro — the space between the ears becomes even more important than the arm.

That’s one of the big lessons Eric Stults absorbed in his 14 seasons of professional baseball (2002-2015).

“It’s the mental part of the game,” Stults said after leading a pitching camp for youngsters Saturday, Feb. 25 at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. “A lot of guys can physically throw a baseball and throw it hard and well. But what separates the guys who excel or do so at the next level is their ability to mentally make adjustments and stay focused.

“It’s somebody I probably didn’t learn until college. More than physically, I needed to be mentally sharp. (After learning that,) I was practicing that as much as I was throwing the baseball.

“The earlier some of these players can get that, it’s only going to help them along the way.”

Stults played at Argos High School and Bethel College before being  drafted in 2002. The left-hander’s pro baseball odyssey took him through experiences with five different Major League Baseball clubs (Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves) as well as several minor league teams and in Japan (Hiroshima Toyo Carp).

While working toward the big leagues (he made his debut in 2006), Stults was introduced to the importance of the mental side.

“I got in a rut and was searching for something,” Stults said. “Someone said, ‘have you ever thought of the mental side of the game?’ I said, ’Not really. I just go out there and throw the baseball and hope for the best.’”

Stults started his Indiana Chargers camp remarks by focusing on enjoyment of the game.

“This is a game,” Stults said to 45 pitchers of varying ages and their parents. “We want to have fun.”

Then comes learning how to pitch — not just throw.

Even the hardest throwers can’t rely on velocity alone.

Stults, who resides in Middlebury, enjoyed longevity in the game not from gas but his ability to focus on the game within the game — pitcher vs. hitter. He was able to change speeds and the eye levels of hitters by moving the ball around.

After a Tommy John surgery early in his career — before he really knew the importance of arm care — he stayed relatively healthy.

While campers went from station to station for Crossover Symmetry Band work for rotator cuff and scapular strengthening, throwing and recovery drills with the help of ECBSA’s Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and George Hofsommer, Stults also took time to tell them about concepts like routine.

Stults, who worked with many coaches and sports psychologists throughout his diamond days, said his routine changed throughout his career, but having one helped with the mental side of the game.

One pre-pitch routine that he had was taking a deep breath and letting it go along with all of the tension.

“It can be that simple,” Stults said. “I also had a key word — FOCUS. It let me focus on the catcher’s glove and take the distractions out of my head. That allows you to get back into a good mind frame.”

Learning the mental side also helped Stults to keep from dwelling on the negative things and focus on his next pitch or next outing.

“The mindset is you’ve got to forget about it,” Stults said. “It’s easier said than done. But that comes through practice and mental part of the game. Let’s move forward.”

In discussing mechanics, Stults noted that not everyone delivers the ball in the same way or has the same arm slot.

“As an individual, you have to figure out what works for you,” Stults said. “When I talk about different grips and throwing different pitches, it’s trial and error.

“You have to be willing to try new things and be coachable.”

Stults encouraged players to learn how to “self-coach” and diagnose their own problems and find solutions.

He emphasized always having a purpose even when playing catch (throw to a target) and developing tempo and rhythm while using nice loose grip on the baseball.

As Stults, 37, looks back on his lengthy career, it’s the relationships that stand out.

“What was gratifying was the people I met,” Stults said. “You can sit there and talk about victories and this and that. But it’s the people I met along the way. It’s that clubhouse camaraderie I was able to have in baseball.”

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Former big leaguer Eric Stults demonstrates a grip during a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)

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Eric Stults throws at a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. He was helped by ECBSA’s Justin Barber (from left on right side of photo), George Hofsommer and Joel Mishler. (Photo By John Sadowey)

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A pitching camp by former big leaguer and Middlebury resident Eric Stults brought out several youngsters to Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)