Tag Archives: San Diego Padres

Closser heeds call of baseball coaching

rbilogosmall

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)

 

Advertisements

Versatile VanMeter seeking opportunties in Reds organization

rbilogosmall

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.

JOSHVANMETERPENSECOLA2

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

rbilogosmall

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.

TJWEIRSAMISSIONS17

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

rbilogosmall

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.

EVANMILLER

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

rbilogosmall

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).

JEFFMCKEON1

JEFFMCKEON2

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

rbilogosmall

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.

FORTWAYNETINCAPS

Fort Wayne coach, toolmaker Dunno helps pitchers gain velocity

rbilogosmall

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.