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Well-traveled Roy returning to Grace staff as chaplain, coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tom Roy did not get to play baseball for as long as he wanted.

But he’s OK with that because by using faith as a fastener, the former pitcher has attached himself to the game all over the globe and his base of operations has been northern Indiana.

“It’s a God thing,” says Roy. “It’s not about me.”

Roy, who founded Unlimited Potential, Inc. — an organization that ministers to baseball programs around the world serving Christ through baseball —  in Winona Lake in 1980.

An autobiography — “Released” — tells about how he eventually started UPI after a career-ending injury. He was signed by the San Francisco Giants as a pitcher at 17.

Fast forward decades and Roy can say he has taught and coached baseball in 67 countries.

“I’m the father of baseball in Uganda,” says Roy, who introduced the sport to a nation who had been playing the bat-and-ball sport of cricket. As part of the lessons, there was prayer, Bible study and baseball instruction. That’s still the way some there still do it.

“That is baseball to them,” says Roy. “It’s part of the baseball culture.”

Roy returns to the baseball coaching staff at Grace College (also in Kosciusko town next to Warsaw) as both assistant coach and team chaplain for head coach Cam Screeton’s team in 2017-18. Roy worked as Lancers pitching coach 1970-73 (earning a bachelor’s degree at Grace in 1974), head coach 1980-83 and was an assistant in 2015.

Roy remembers that spring that at almost every stop around the Crossroads League, he was greeted by hugs from opposing coaches.

“Our players wondered why we were hugging the other team,” says Roy. “I was back, coaching against friends.”

He served as head baseball coach and assistant football coach to Charlie Smith when Tippecanoe Valley High School opened it doors in 1974-75 and has the distinction of leading sectional winners — the first in any sport in school history — that first spring in baseball (1975).

The ace of the Vikings pitching staff was left-hander Keith Hardesty. The team also featured Chris Smalley and Doug Miller.

Roy was an associate scout for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1976-79, pitching coach at Huntington College (now Huntington University) 1987-89 and was an associate international scout for the Atlanta Braves from 1993-99 and for the San Diego Padres from 2000-05.

In his connection with the Seattle Mariners, Roy gained a large audience and began working with Harold Reynolds, Dave Valle, Alvin Davis and others. He took Reynolds on a missionary trip to Thailand and the others on similar trips.

Through the game and sharing of faith, trust relationships were developed and he was introduced to many current players.

“One of the biggest issues for these guys is trust,” says Roy of major league players who have people constantly approaching them. “They would ask me, ‘why do you want to be a my friend?’

“The answer: Jesus.”

Through Sam Bender, Roy began to speak to home and visiting teams around the Midwest.

“I got to know hundreds of players because of Baseball Chapel,” says Roy, who worked with current BC president Vince Nauss and former president Dave Swanson. He also received encouragement from Jack King of Athletes In Action.

Roy became chaplain for the Chicago White Sox organization when Jerry Manuel was manager. He stayed in touch with chaplains for all the White Sox affiliates and filed reports.

“I’ve had all these pivotal moments in my life,” says Roy. “It’s fun when you finally let go.”

By building relationships, Roy has been able to build a library of instructional videos for coaches and players at http://www.upi.org featuring MLB pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy and Luke Hochevar.

While coach at Huntington, Roy helped then-head coach Jim Wilson build Forest Glen Park, helped send hurlers Tim Dell, Jim Lawson, Doug Neuenschwander and Mark Parker into professional baseball and recruited Mike Frame, who is heading into his 34th season as HU’s head coach in 2018.

It was also while at Huntington that Roy got a chance to meet his baseball hero — Hank Aaron. Hammerin’ Hank accepted an invitation to speak at a preseason event and the two got a chance to talk about the game and faith during their drive from the airport.

Roy served 27 years in that role at the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series. Since 1990, the UPI-sponsored Hank Burbridge Award honors the NCCAA’s Outstanding Christian Baseball Player of the Year with potential to Christian service through baseball. The award is named for the long-time baseball coach at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University.

Roy hails from Grafton, Wis. When his playing career to an abrupt halt and he found himself looking for another career, he decided to go into radio. He sent his resumes to other Graftons in the U.S. and wound up at a station in West Virginia — WVVW.

It was also in Wisconsin that he met the woman he would married. Tom and Carin were wed in 1970 and soon found themselves moving to the Hoosier State, where they would welcome two daughters — Amy in 1975 and Lindsay in 1979.

At 6-foot-5, Roy was a strong basketball player and it was through the hardwood that he met a Grace Brethren pastor that suggested he go to Indiana to study and play basketball at Grace.

“It was the spiritual that brought me here,” says Roy. The couple became engaged when Carin visited Tom in West Virginia. They were wed in 1970 and soon found themselves moving to Winona Lake. He became a full-time student with several part-time jobs and she worked full-time.

In his basketball tryout at Grace, he went against Jim Kessler (who is now in his 36th season as Lancers head men’s basketball coach).

Roy was going to be offered a place on the squad when it was learned that he had played some minor league baseball. At the time, NAIA rules did not allow for someone to be a pro in one sport and an amateur in another so he became as assistant coach in basketball and baseball.

Before UPI got off the ground, Tom and Carin welcomed two daughters — Amy in 1975 and Lindsay in 1979.

The only UPI staff member for the first few years, Tom went full-time with the organization in 1983. At first, he made connections in the U.S., and then went international. As a part of the admissions office at Grace, he was in charge of international students and had a stipend for international recruiting.

Besides founder Roy, the UPI team now features former pro players in executive director Mickey Weston (current White Sox chaplain) as well as Brian Hommel (Arizona Diamondbacks chaplain), Tony Graffanino (White Sox spring training and Arizona League affiliate chaplain), Terry Evans (Braves chaplain) and Simon Goehring (missions coordinator based in Germany).

Bryan Hickerson made his MLB debut in 1991 and pitched for Giants, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies. He began attending UPI Bible studies in 1997 and in 1999 moved to Warsaw and joined the UPI lineup. He was able to forge relationships with both baseball players and military around the world. He moved from there to a minor league pitching coach in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Tom Roy and Jerry Price have co-authored  “Beyond Betrayal” as well as three volumes in the Chadwick Bay Series — “Sandusky Bay,” “Ellison Bay” and “Lake of Bays.” The last three are novels on manhood.

“Our model of manhood is Jesus,” says Roy.

TOMROY

Tom Roy, a former minor league pitcher and founder of Unlimited Potential, Inc., has returned to the baseball staff at Grace College in Winona Lake as team chaplain and assistant coach.

 

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Turnock wants his Marian Knights to push themselves as far as they can

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When baseball players are pushed past the comfort zone, that’s when progress is made.

That’s the way Joe Turnock, sixth-year head coach at Marian High School in Mishawaka, goes about his job of developing young athletes.

“It’s about developing and being pushed beyond his experience,” says Turnock. “We want to stretch them, challenge them.

“I don’t care what year you graduate If you can play and have the mental maturity.”

That may mean a freshman standing in against a gas-throwing senior. But if they can handle it, their age and grade is not factored in.

Turnock, a graduate of Marian (1982) and Indiana University (1986), knows that being mentally strong is important in a game not always filled with moments of success.

“Baseball resembles life,” says Turnock. “There’s a lot of failure in the game. What do you do to respond after something negative happens — something that might not be within your control?

“The most important muscle is between the ears. It’s your mental make-up.”

Learning to cope in these situations while in high school will help in the future.

“Not everything works according to plan,” says Turnock. “You’ve got to able to bounce back.

“Control what you can control and compete.”

Even in games that may have resulted in losses, the positives are added up.

“Did you scrap back and win the last few innings?,” says Turnock. “There are things you can build on in your next game or practice.”

Turnock joined a Marian coaching staff led by Tim Prister after spending time in the showcase/travel baseball world. Turnock was a coach with the Michiana Scrappers and continues to be affiliated with the Crossroads Baseball Series.

Youngest son Josh (Joe and Amy Turnock also have 24-year-old Joe) was a catcher for the Scrappers and a battery mate of Evan Miller.

Now 22, Josh Turnock was a freshman on Marian’s IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up team in 2011.

The young Turnock and Miller went on to play for the North in the 2014 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All/Star Series.

While Josh Turnock is at Eastern Illinois University, LaPorte graduate Miller is now pitching in the San Diego Padres organization.

At EIU, Josh got to catch Michael McCormick. The right-hander who played at Speedway High School for father Marcus McCormick is now in the Chicago White Sox system.

Riley Tirotta, a 2017 Marian graduate, was a standout at shortstop and also played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series before heading to the University of Dayton.

Turnock has helped Tirotta, who has trained with Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich., and others get the attention of college coaches.

“A lot of the recruiting process had changed,” says Turnock. “You have to proactive and market yourself.”

Some of the recruiting tools including sending out videos and attending the showcases appropriate for the player.

For instance, a player suited for the NAIA or NCAA Division III will not be best-served at a showcase with mostly D-I coaches.

“There’s enough college baseball out there,” says Turnock. “Find where you’re going to fit. It’s not the glamor and glitz that people think it is. There’s a lot of work.”

With Tirotta’s athleticism, his coach was able to use him at various places in the infield and on the mound.

When Turnock had exit interviews with his players at the season of the ’17 season, he advised the returnees to work on versatility.

“If your name is on the lineup card, that’s a good day,” says Turnock. Players should not be concerned about where they are on the field or in the batting order. Just compete and contribute.

Roles can change. It happens at the high school level and it happens in the big leagues.

Take Chicago Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery as an example.

“He might start then be used in middle relief then close then start again,” says Turnock.

Marian is a Roman Catholic secondary school, operated by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and is a college preparatory institution.

The Knights are also in Class 3A-sized school.

“We have to share athletes,” says Turnock. “We know that not all players will make it to open gyms (or fields) when they are in-season (with another sport). But I want a kid who had to stand on the foul line and had to knock down two free throws with no time on the clock.

“Kids know who should be taking those shots or who should be at the plate in a key situation. Most kids’ self-awareness is a lot higher than people give them credit for.”

Turnock believes everyone should take part in a team sport — something that prepares them for the work world. There is teamwork and the discovery that sometimes not everyone pulls their weight.

As Marian looks toward the 2018 season, Keith Schreiber and Ryan Dainty are returnees to Turnock’s coaching staff.

“(Schreiber) is a phenomenal addition,” says Turnock of the former Glen Oaks Community College head coach and youngest son of the late Ken Schreiber. A 13-time Hall of Famer who won 1,010 games and seven state titles at LaPorte, Ken died Sept. 8 at age 83.

Dainty, Dean of Student Formation at Marian, is the head junior varsity coach.

Turnock tends to carry a large number of JV players in order to give them opportunities and a chance to get better so they can help at the varsity level.

“You never know how kids are going to develop,” says Turnock.

Walter Lehmann, a Marian graduate who was on Turnock’s staff, has become head coach at Concord High School.

Turnock says he is looking to add to his staff.

“We look at the coaches the same as the players,” says Turnock. “I don’t have an ego. The goal is to be successful as a team. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit for it.”

The Knights play in the Northern Indiana Conference. In 2017, the NIC produced a 3A state champion (South Bend St. Joseph) and 4A state runner-up (Penn).

“I’ve got a lot of respect for both of those guys,” says Turnock of St. Joe coach John Gumpf and Penn coach Greg Dikos, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s a strong conference from top to bottom. On any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”

The NIC has 13 teams (Marian, Penn, St. Joseph, Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, New Prairie, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley and South Bend Washington) and is broken into divisions.

Marian plays home-and-home games with NIC teams St. Joseph, Mishawaka and Elkhart Central and a round robin with traditionally-strong programs Fort Wayne Carroll and Northridge.

“We want to have to grind through the season,” says Turnock. “When we get into the sectional, it’s not something we haven’t seen before.”

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Joe Turnock. a 1982 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, is in his sixth season as Knights head baseball coach in 2017-18. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Closser heeds call of baseball coaching

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J.D. Closser played professional baseball for 14 seasons.

After two campaigns away from the diamond, the former Indiana Mr. Baseball decided it was time to return to the game that has been so good to him.

“I wanted to give back what I’ve learned and make a career out of it,” says Closser, the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. “(Baseball is) what I’ve done my whole life.”

His goal is to make it back to the majors in some capacity.

Closser was 18 when he began his pro playing career in 1998 after being selected in the fifth round of that year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Alexandria-Monroe High School. The Monte Sprague-coached Tigers won the 1998 IHSAA Class 2A state title.

Closser played for the South Bend Silver Hawks for parts of the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons and made his MLB debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2004 and logged 160 MLB games over three seasons.

He also played in the Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers systems through 2011.

Closser was 34 when he started coaching in 2014 with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees.

The former left-handed-swinging catcher spent two seasons in Tampa (working for managers Al Pedrique and Dave Bialas) and is now 37 and in his second year with Trenton.

Closser, who serves on the staff of 2017 Eastern League Manager of the Year Bobby Mitchell, carries the official title of defensive coach. Mitchell was also Trenton manager in 2016.

Coaching duties for Closser in 2017 include throwing batting practice and hitting fungos during batting practice while concentrating on the team’s catchers before, during and after contests.

“I make sure they get their work in,” says Closser. “I also get advance reports together for coaches and catchers and set up a gameplan for opposing teams. (In the bullpen), I give (relievers) a brief rundown on who is coming into the game.”

Closser says there is more game planning done and in-game adjustments made in Double-A than at lower levels of MLB-affiliated baseball.

“They’re executing pitches and working off their strengths (in A-ball),” says Closser catchers and pitchers. “You begin to spot a hitter’s weaknesses (in Double-A).”

There is also plenty of work on blocking and receiving pitches and talk of Pop times (time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the intended fielder receives his throw.).

Like all organizations, the Yankees have a way they like to develop their players. But they do allow their coaches some freedom to use their own experiences to help players.

“You can incorporate our own ideas, things that have worked for you,” says Closser.

A few years ago, he helped one of his catchers by passing on a lesson he had learned about speeding up his throws to second base.

“I wanted him to get the ball in his throwing hand and in the air as fast as possible,” says Closser. “It is a thought process.”

Growing up, Closser’s thoughts were filled with baseball, fueled by men like Sprague and his father, Jeff (who is now head baseball coach at Alex).

Young J.D. gained a foundation based on work ethic.

“It was about going out and practicing,” says Closser. “So much of today’s player is showcasing and playing games. My dad instilled in me that you practice everyday. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice. It’s the Rule of 10,000. If you want to be good at anything, you have to do it 10,000 times.”

J.D. also learned about accountability.

“Your teammates and coaching staff are counting on you to show up and do your game everyday,” says Closser.

What he misses most about his playing days is the unity.

“I remember the clubhouse atmosphere being part of a team,” says Closser. “There was that competing everyday day and learning how to attack hitters.”

At home in Raleigh, N.C., Closser’s home team features wife Holley and daughters Belle (14), Callie (12) and Maebry (1). Belle is a freshmen in high school and Callie a seventh grader. Holley is from the area. She met J.D. when he played in Zebulon for the 2002 Carolina Mudcats.

Closser will have to wait to see what off-season assignments the Yankees might send his way. Trenton was to close out the regular season Monday, Sept. 4, and open the Eastern League playoffs Wednesday, Sept. 6.

JDCLOSSERTRENTON2017

J.D. Closser, a 1998 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is a bullpen coach with the Trenton Thunder in the New York Yankees organization. He played 14 professional baseball seasons and 2017 is his fourth as a coach. (Trenton Thunder Photo)

 

Versatile VanMeter seeking opportunties in Reds organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Versatility is valued by the Cincinnati Reds.

That’s why they have Josh VanMeter playing multiple positions for the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

“I take more than one glove to the park everyday,” says VanMeter, a 2013 Norwell High School graduate who has played third base, left field and first base in his last 10 games and is listed on his MiLB.com profile as a second baseman. “It’s good for my career to play many different spots. I’ve definitely enjoyed it.”

Dick Schofield, a former major league shortstop, is Pensacola’s defensive and third base coach and has helped VanMeter with positioning and attacking the ball.

While guiding Pensacola into a Southern League playoff berth, Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly has continued to get at-bats for lefty-swinging VanMeter.

“(Kelly) likes the way I go about my business,” says VanMeter, a 5-foot-11, 165-pounder. “I’m a guy who plays the game the right way. I give you competitive at-bats day in and day out.

“Show up and compete. That’s a big thing in the game of baseball.”

In his first 125 games and 451 at-bats at Double-A, VanMeter was hitting .264 with five home runs, one triple, 29 doubles, 52 runs batted in, 45 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.

With Gookie Dawkins as his hitting coach, VanMeter says he is improving his knowledge of the strike zone.

“You learn to lay off the tough pitches, especially with two strikes,” says VanMeter, 22. “It’s about not missing good pitches to hit.”

VanMeter was traded by the San Diego Padres to the Reds organization Dec. 9, 2016 and was told by agent Joe Speed how that would increase his opportunities. He was selected by San Diego in the fifth round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He had committed to play at Illinois State University, but decided to go pro and signed with area scout Mark Conner (now director of scouting for the Padres).

“The opportunity to go straight into pro baseball was something I couldn’t pass up,” says VanMeter. “I thought I was mentally ready to play baseball everyday

“I promised my mom after I got drafted I would someday get my degree.”

Josh is the middle child of Greg and Amy VanMeter. Older brother Tyler played high school soccer. Younger sister Carlie was a cheerleader at Norwell and is now on the cheer squad at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne.

After closing his record-setting Norwell career with a Class 3A Indiana state championship, Josh VanMeter played for the Arizona League Padres that summer before spending all of 2014 with the Low Class-A Fort Wayne TinCaps.

In April 2015, VanMeter suffered a leg injury while turning a double play at second base. Playing at Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field, he collided with Lansing Lugnuts runner Rowdy Tellez. The result was a broken left fibula and months of grueling physical rehabilitation.

VanMeter walked on an aqua treadmill with the water level lowered every two days. He underwent painful deep tissue massage stop the build-up scar tissue. He did end up playing 25 games in Fort Wayne in 2015 before moving on to High Class-A Lake Elsinore then Double-A San Antonio as well as the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

He split his time between second base and shortstop in 2013 and 2014, played second base in 2015 and was a third baseman in 2016.

So popular was VanMeter — the first player from northeast Indiana to play for the TinCaps — that president Mike Nutter decided to honor the player with his own bobblehead.

“It was pretty special,” says VanMeter. “Pat Kelly made a big deal about it in spring training. Getting to play in Fort Wayne was special that year and a half.”

VanMeter played travel baseball from 2007-12 with the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers, playing for father Greg (now Sluggers president) and diamond veteran Mark Delalarza.

“That was a great experience,” says Josh VanMeter. “(Delagarza) had a huge impact on me. He taught me to be a man and made me the player I am today. I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world.”

Josh’s profile in the baseball universe raised with his MVP performance while playing fall ball for the Andy Slack-coached Reds Midwest Scout Team at the Perfect Game Kernels Foundation tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2012.

Playing for coach Andy McClain at Norwell, three-time all-stater VanMeter set school records for career doubles (44) and single-season pitching wins (14) and walks (41) while tying for single-season home runs (9) in 2013 and single-season hits (53) and doubles (20) in 2011. The win record had been held by Jarrod Parker, who went on to pitch in the big leagues.

“(McClain) is always there for me,” says VanMeter. “He’s just a great person. He has held me accountable.”

During the state title run, VanMeter saw how McClain handled a team featuring 10 seniors.

“We knew what we had to do to win a state championship,” says VanMeter, who scored both runs on hits by Jonah Patten in a 2-1 win against Jasper. “He gave us a lot of freedom and that was good for us.”

With VanMeter at point guard, Norwell was a 3A basketball state runner-up in 2012. He went on to become a school record holder for 3-pointers, No. 2 in all-time scoring and third in assists.

“High school with him was a lot of fun,” says Greg VanMeter, who was calling much of action on the internet for www.wellscountyvoice.com. The site covers Knights football, boys basketball, girls basketball and baseball games.

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Josh VanMeter, a 2013 Norwell High School graduate, is in his first season in the Cincinnati Reds organization with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in 2017. (Barrett McClean/Pensacola Blue Wahoos Photo)

Sinker effective pitch for Kokomo native, Padres minor leaguer Weir

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Making more of his pitches go down has helped T.J. Weir go up in professional baseball.

Weir, a graduate of Kokomo High School (2010) and Ball State University (2014), has incorporated a sinker into his pitching repertoire and is now at Double-A in the San Diego Padres organization after beginning the 2017 season at High-A.

According to Tim Weir, T.J.’s father, off-season throwing partner and pitching coach at Kokomo High, his son learned the sinker while playing catch a couple off-seasons back with big league reliever Craig Stammen.

Todd Linklater was one of T.J.’s pitching coaches at Ball State and had coached Stammen while guiding pitchers at the University of Dayton and helped get the two hurlers together.

“Last year he used a four-seam fastball and sometimes a sinker,” says Tim Weir. “This year, it’s primarily a sinker. He can rely on the sinker and can get a swing and miss or ground balls in counts where he used to give up hits.”

T.J. played at UCT Cal Ripken Baseball League until 12 and travel ball with the Central Indiana Kings (coached by Tim Weir, Chad Reida and Keith Vautaw) and Tim Weir-coached Indiana Force through his 15-year-old summer before he went with the Indiana Bulls to be coached by Todd Dunwoody then Alex Rynearson.

All the while Tim, a 1982 Kokomo graduate who played Wildkats baseball for Carl McNulty and Mike Smith, was paying close attention. He knows his sons’ mechanics almost better than he does.

“I don’t like to admit it, but sometimes he’s right,” says T.J. of his father. “He knows the game really well. He watches the game online and sees things I need to fix.”

The 25-year-old Weir now often uses the sinker — thrown at 90 to 93 mph — in fastball situations and it has aided the 6-foot right-hander in going 4-1 with a 1.65 earned run average in 31 games and 49 innings with the Double-A San Antonio Missions after going 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 10 games and 19 1/3 innings with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm.

Weir, who also throws a curve, slider and occasional change-up, has a way of describing himself as a pitcher.

“I’m a strike thrower,” says T.J. “I get ahead in the count and keep (hitters) off-balance.”

In his last 10 appearances, Weir has thrown 101 of 230 pitches for strikes while going 1-0 with an 0.56 ERA over 16 innings.

“I take pride in throwing strikes, being able to field my position and things like that,” says Weir, who was often a third baseman or shortstop when not pitching at Ball State.

Getting ahead in the count allows Weir to sometimes “pitch backwards” from the conventional sequence.

“The Texas League only has eight teams (four in Texas and four up north),” says T.J. “We play the same three teams over and over again. You need to be able to adjust on the fly.”

But players don’t actually fly in the Texas League. All trips are by bus. The shortest from San Antonio is 2 1/2 hours. It takes about 12 to get to Springfield, Mo. The Missions take two buses on that long haul and don’t have to share seats. Otherwise, players do their best to get comfortable on one. Not an easy task for Weir, but even tougher for bullpen mates like (6-9 Brad Wieck) and (6-7 Trey Wingenter).

T.J. played for Steve Edwards at Kokomo and was a classmate of right-hander Nolan Sanburn, now in the Washington Nationals system.

Weir was recruited to Ball State by Greg Beals and played for Alex Marconi his first two collegiate seasons and Rich Maloney his last two. Before Linklater, his pitching coach at BSU was Jeremy Plexico.

“It was cool to be able to hear from both of them,” says T.J. “They came from two very different experiences. (Plexico) is tall and left-handed. (Linklater) is a short righty.”

Weir went back and forth from believer to starter at Ball State. He was primarily a starter his senior season, when he was selected in the 17th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Padres.

Of his 124 minor league appearances, all but 20 have come as a reliever.

“I’ve found a rhythm and a routine I like in the pen,” says T.J., who usually pitches two innings per outing and has yet to pitch on consecutive days.

He has also learned much from San Antonio pitching coach Jimmy Jones.

“He’s great,” says T.J. of Jones. “We relievers listen in during starter’s bullpens. He’s always dropping knowledge.”

Jones has conveyed the importance of control over the body — even when tired from the long season.

“You learn how to play catch the right way,” says T.J. “You can get in so many bad habits. We play six months straight. You learn how to conduct yourself as a professional and take every rep seriously.”

T.J. will be seriously busy once the 2017 season ends.

Giving back to his hometown, he will conduct a free kids baseball camp Sept. 30 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

On Nov. 18, T.J. is to marry former Ball State volleyball player Kati Vasalakis in Muncie and then move to Cincinnati where she is now working.

After recovering from the 2017 season, Weir begins ramping up his throwing program in preparation of 2018 in December.

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T.J. Weir delivers a pitch for the 2017 San Antonio Missions. The Kokomo, Ind., native is in the San Diego Padres organization. (San Antonio Missions Photo)

 

LaPorte’s Miller pitching professionally in ‘second home’ of Fort Wayne

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Evan Miller was born in LaPorte and learned his baseball in the land of the Slicers.

Fort Wayne has become like a “second home” to Miller, who played baseball at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne and is now trying make his way in pro ball as a pitcher with the Fort Wayne TinCaps.

“I love this place,” says Miller, who went 10-10 with two saves a 5.39 earned run average in 31 appearances over two seasons while taking general studies classes at IPFW. “There’s plenty to do.”

The 2014 LaPorte High School graduate and Michiana Scrappers travel player was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 22nd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Miller was the third player ever drafted out of the school and became the first former IPFW Mastodon on the TinCaps roster when he appeared in six games with the Low Class-A Midwest League club in 2016.

A 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander, Miller has spent 2017 moving between extended spring training in Arizona, the Tri-City Dust Devils in Washington state and Fort Wayne.

“Everything’s a learning experience,” says Miller. “I started off hot, I hit my rough spot and now I’ve gotten my feet back under me and I’m pitching a little better.

“I just want to pitch well and control what I can control. I don’t worry about moving up or down.”

Besides the numbers, what tells Miller things are going right for him?

“I’m throwing strikes,” says Miller. “I’m getting ahead in the count. I’m being consistent with the off-speed and throwing that for strikes.

“I like my fastball. I throw it early and often. I’m trying to get (batters) to swing in the first three pitches.”

In his most recent outing for the TinCaps — July 22 against Kane County — he came out of the bullpen to pitch two-plus innings.

Throwing 30 pitches (23 fastballs and 21 strikes), Miller faced 10 batters and allowed four hits and two earned runs. He tossed a first-pitch strike to six hitters and got ahead 0-2 on three batters.

Three times, he fired pitches shown as 94 mph on the Parkview Field scoreboard and was at 91 or above 22 times.

“If I’m going to get beat, I’m going to get beat with my best pitch, which I think is my fastball,” says Miller, who likes to mix his fastball — which thrown with a four-seam grip but runs and sinks like a two-seamer — with his slider and change-up.

Parents David and Sheree Miller and grandparents Larry and Bev Miller were in the Fort Wayne crowd. LaPorte is only about 100 miles away. When Evan was in college, playing for head coach Bobby Pierce, his dad and grandfather were known to travel as far away as Fargo, N.D., and Tulsa, Okla., to see their boy pitch.

Of course, Evan was a starter most of the time at LaPorte, where he was an honorable mention all-state selection for head coach Scott Upp in 2014, and at IPFW (where he struck out a school-record 94 batters in 80 innings in 2015 and followed that up with 71 K’s in 72 1/3 innings in 2016) so they knew when he was scheduled to play.  There’s not as much certainty coming out of the bullpen, but there are days when relievers are considered “hot” and ready to be used on a given day.

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Evan Miller, a 2014 LaPorte High School graduate who pitched at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in 2015 and 2016, is now with the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the San Diego Padres organization. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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.