Tag Archives: Somerset Patriots

Former Castle, Virginia righty Messinger excited for opportunity in Yankees system

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Three years of showing what he can do pitching in the power-packed Atlantic Coast Conference, University of Virginia right-hander Zach Messinger was selected in the 13th round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees.
“I’m extremely excited and honored to play for a team like the New York Yankees,” says Messinger, 21. “They have 27 World Series championships for a reason.”
A 2018 graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Messinger was part of a Virginia program that won 82 of 137 games during his time in Charlottesville and made it to the 2021 College World Series.
Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor, who was the pitching coach at Notre Dame for nine seasons (1995-93) under Irish head coach Paul Mainieri, has led the Cavaliers to five CWS appearances with a national title in 2015.
The 2021 season was Drew Dickinson’s second as Virginia pitching coach.
“He’s already done a phenomenal job,” says Messinger of Dickinson. “He’s one of the best college pitching coaches in the country.
“Statistically, we’re one of the best pitching staffs in the ACC because of it.”
UVA ranked in the top three in the conference in several categories in 2021, including wins, earned run average, opposing batting average, strikeouts and innings pitched.
Assistants Kevin McMullan and Matt Kirby have also helped get the most out of the Cavaliers.
“We put full trust in the coaches for their game-by-game and series-by-series preparation,” says Messinger.
In his three collegiate campaigns, Messinger made 51 mound appearances (11 starts) and was 5-3 with a 4.42 ERA. He racked up 107 strikeouts with 47 walks in 99 2/3 innings.
In 2021, he got into 28 games (24 as a reliever) and was 3-2 with a 4.89 ERA. He fanned 64 and walked 21 in 57 innings.
Does Messinger consider himself a starter or reliever?
“I can be put out there no matter what,” says Messinger. “I have the mentality, endurance and pitchability to be a starter.
“I also also have the capability to come out of the pen in high-stress situations. I can come on with short rest and deliver for the team. It comes down to where the organization thinks is the best fit for me.”
Signed on July 22, Messinger is now at the Yankees training headquarters in Tampa, Fla., getting to know personnel and the way the system works and expects to be there into the fall.
“The Yankees don’t tend to send new draft guys off to a (minor league) team,” says Messinger. “They like to have guys in-house throwing in front of coaches.
“I want to find a good base strength-wise and be where the coaches want me to be by spring training.”
The Yankees’ top four affiliates are the Low Class-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons, High Class-A Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades, Double-A Somerset (N.J.) Patriots and Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre (Pa.) Railriders.
Messinger employs four pitches from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot — four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and change-up.
The four-seamer sat at 93 to 95 mph and touched 97 while Messenger was at Virginia.
“The slider has more horizontal break and plays well off the fastball with the same release point,” says Messinger. “It’s late-breaking when I throw it correctly. It has become a pretty good ‘out’ pitch for me.”
Messinger calls his “12-to-6” curve “Ol’ Reliable.”
“I’ve had it since I was 15 years old,” says Messinger. “I’ve used the same grip ever since I was a kid.”
He uses a “circle” change.
Born in Evansville, Ind., Messinger moved into the Castle district while in elementary school. His family resided in Chandler, Ind., until his mother accepted a job offer and they moved to Richmond, Va., at the end of Zach’s senior year.
Dennis and Lisa Messinger have four sons — Zach and 17-year-old triplets Eli, Lucas and Tyler.
Dennis Messinger is a job site supervisor for Shurm Homes. Lisa Messinger is director of environmental sciences at Dominion Energy. He played basketball at Olney (Ill.) Central College. She was a volleyball player at the University of Evansville.
Heading into their junior year of high school, all three triplets are athletes — Eli and Lucas in basketball and baseball and Tyler in track.
Zach Messinger got his organized baseball start at what is now Evansville East Youth Baseball, but played at what is now Newburgh Junior Baseball from 8U to 11U.
Dennis Messinger coached Zach and the Ohio Valley Vipers for his son’s 12U and 13U summers.
At 14U and 15U, Zach was with the Cory Luebbheusen-coached Jasper J-Cards.
He spent two seasons with the Indiana Bulls (Dan Held at 16U and Sean Laird at 17U).
Curt Welch was Messinger’s coach for four varsity seasons at Castle.
“That man taught me how to be a man while on the baseball field,” says Messinger. “Behind my father Curt Welch is the second-most influential man in my life. He was tough on me. He saw the potential that I had. It was going to take hard work and focus.”
Messinger says Welch taught him how to treat the game and the opposition with respect and how to carry himself on and off the field.
“He taught me more than how to hit a baseball or how to pitch,” says Messinger, who played third base when not on the mound. “What stands out is the stuff that was outside the lines.”
After going 7-1 with a 1.66 ERA, Messenger was the 2018 Courier & Press All-Metro Player of the Year (he was first-team All-Metro three times) and was named to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and was a Prep Baseball Report Indiana first-team All-State selection.
Also a three-letterwinner in basketball, he was Castle’s 2018 Lonnie Fisher Male Athlete of the Year Award winner and graduated with a 3.97 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and was a four-time Scholastic “C” Academic Letter recipient.
His major at Virginia is Media Studies. He plans to complete that in the near future.
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to play professional baseball,” says Messinger. “Academics has always important to me and my family.”
In the summer of 2018, Messinger went to Virginia early to take summer classes and to train. He played for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats in 2019, but did not play in the summers of 2020 or 2021.

Zach Messinger (University of Virginia Photo)
Zach Messinger (University of Virginia Photo)
Zach Messinger (University of Virginia Photo)
Zach Messinger was drafted and signed by the New York Yankees.

Fort Wayne native Reith sharing knowledge as pitching coach in Rays system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Reith played professional baseball for 13 seasons with parts of three in the majors (2001, 2003 and 2004 Cincinnati Reds).

Reith, a 1996 Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School graduate, has plenty to impart to young players as pitching coach for the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods.

But it’s not just about what goes on between the white lines.

“This is about more than just baseball for me,” says Reith. “It’s about young men. The game’s going to be over at some point and, hopefully, they can have a sound future somewhere else.”

Reith, 40, encourages players to approach him about anything.

“They can come to about off-the-field stuff and on-the-field stuff,” says Reith. “I try to be stern, but I try to be a friend to them as well.”

With his young pitchers on the mound, he emphasizes something that helped him during his pro playing career.

“What I focus on mostly is fastball command and getting them to understand the four quadrants of the (strike) zone, how effective that can be and how it sets up their other pitches,” says Reith. “By doing this, starters can also help relievers later in the game.”

Reith says it’s a matter of mechanics for some pitchers and — for others — confidence in their fastball.

“Fastball command was extremely important for me,” says Reith, a 6-foot-5 right-hander who graduated from Concordia in 1996 and was selected in the sixth round of that years’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees. “I first learned that in the (High Class-A) Florida State League. In Double-A, I had catchers who forced me to use my fastball. It really opened up a lot of doors for me.”

In the majors, his first manager was former big league catcher Bob Boone. Former MLB pitcher Don Gullett was the pitching coach.

“I had a lot of conversations with Bob Boone about pitch selection and different hitters and what to look for,” says Reith. “(Don Gullett) taught me a lot about work ethic.”

Dave Miley later took over as Reds manager. He ended up as head coach at Franklin County High School in Brockville, Ind.

Reith pitched for the Indianapolis Indians in 2005. Trent Jewett was the manager and Darold Knowles, who won 66 games and save 143 in 765 big league appearances, the pitching coach.

From 2007 to 2009, he played independent ball — first with the Somerset (Mass.) Patriots and then the Camden (N.J.) Riversharks and Joliet (Ill.) Jackhammers.

Sparky Lyle, who pitched in 899 big league games with 99 wins and 238 saves, was the manager and Brett Jodie, who made eight MLB appearances in 2001 with the Yankees and San Diego Padres, the pitching coach his first season in Somerset.

“(Sparky Lyle) stayed back and let us do our thing,” says Reith. “I was pitching pretty well while I was there.

“Brett Jodie helped me out quite a bit. I played with Jodie in the Yankees organization.”

The 2018 season marks Reith’s fourth in the Tampa Bay Rays system. He spent the past three years as pitching coaches with the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League’s Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades.

There are many former Hudson Valley pitchers on the current Bowling Green staff and Reith sees the value in the continuity.

“It’s always good to have a base and knowledge of how they learn and what they’re working on to start a season off,” says Reith. “It’s definitely helped.”

Reith recalls his time in the Midwest League with Dayton in 2000 and relates those experiences to his Hot Rods.

“It wasn’t that long ago I was in their same shoes,” says Reith. “I try to remember what I was going through and what my mind was like.”

Everyone shares in the grind.

“Travel is pretty brutal for us,” says Reith. “But the guys deal well with it.”

According to Google Maps, the distance between the stadium in Bowling Green and MWL sites are as follows: Beloit (Wis.) Snappers 510; Burlington (Iowa) Bees 494; Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels 561; Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings 530; Dayton (Ohio) Dragons 279; Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps 389; Great Lakes Loons (Midland, Mich.) 616; Kane County Cougars (Geneva, Ill.) 479; Lake County Captains (Eastlake, Ohio) 477; Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts 524; Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs 436; Quad Cities River Bandits (Davenport, Iowa) 512; South Bend (Ind.) Cubs 392; West Michigan Whitecaps (Comstock Park, Mich.) 493; Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Appleton, Wis.) 621.

Toward the end of his playing career, Reith earned on online degree in business management from the University of Phoenix. When he retired as a player, he went to work in the corporate world and landed with Champs Sports in Bradenton, Fla.

At the same time, Reith was coaching 14- to 18-year-olds in Sam Marsonek’s SCORE International program — combination travel baseball organization and ministry.

“I really enjoyed teaching the young kids,” says Reith. “That really sparked my interest in what I could do at a different level.”

When the Rays came calling, he started coaching professionals.

Reith’s early diamond days were spent at Wallen Baseball League in Fort Wayne, where teams played by American Amateur Baseball Congress rules and runners could lead off at a younger age the Little League. The league turned 50 in 2008.

He played travel ball for the Fort Wayne Seminoles and Fort Wayne Warriors and four years as a pitcher and outfielder at Concordia for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Massucci.

“He’s an extremely hard worker and a very knowledgeable guy,” says Reith of Massucci. “I didn’t know too much about situational baseball and he taught me a lot.”

Massucci is well-known around Fort Wayne for his long-time association with the Wildcat Baseball League.

Brian is the son of Steve and Nancy Reith, who live in the Fort Wayne area along with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Brian’s sister, Stacey, resides in Fishers, Ind.

Bowling Green has made two visits to Fort Wayne this season and is due for another July 6-9.

Brian, wife Kellie and their children reside in the Bradenton/Sarasota area in Florida. The family — parents, son Dixon (7) and daughter Kinsie (6) — have been together most of the season in Bowling Green. Recently, Kellie went back to Florida to ready to give birth to a second daughter in about two weeks.

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Brian Reith makes a mound visit as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. The Fort Wayne native is in his fourth season of coaching in the Tampa Bay Rays system. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)

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Brian Reith signals his approval as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. He is a 1996 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran High School and played 13 professional baseball seasons, including parts of three in the majors. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)

 

IHSBCA All-Star alum Fox speaks from the heart

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Fox knows the honor of being chosen as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant.

Before he went on to play at the University of Michigan and 14 seasons in professional baseball — making his big league debut in 2007 with the Chicago Cubs — Fox played for the South in 2000 in Fort Wayne.

Fox, who is now retired as a player and living in Michigan, accepted an invitation from former Wolverines and current Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney to address the 2017 All-Stars and their families at a recognition banquet Friday, July 14.

A 1 p.m. doubleheader is slated for Saturday, July 15 with one wood-bat game at noon Sunday, July 16 at Ball State in Muncie.

Outlining the passion, persistence, perseverance and patience it took him to make it to baseball’s pinnacle and play five different positions with seven different MLB organizations plus stints in independent ball and in Mexico and Korea, the Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate told his story.

Fox, 34, first congratulated the Class of 2017 All-Stars.

“This is a great honor,” said Fox. “You may not know it now. But looking back on my career, these are some of the memories that I hold dear. It is a testament to your talent and a dedication to your craft. It’s awesome.”

Why did Maloney choose Fox to speak when the coach has had so many players with what many would call better resumes?

“I asked him why me?,” said Fox. “He chuckled like the answer was obvious — ‘You played. You were there.’ Who else was going to stand up here and talk about getting from here to where I am now?”

Deciding against a prepared speech, Fox spoke from the heart.

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t a superstar player,” said Fox, who was selected in the third round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs and signed by scout Stan Zielinski. “I was a role player my whole time in the big leagues (through 193 games, 489 at-bats, 20 home runs, 73 runs batted in with the Cubs, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles). These kids don’t want to be a role player. They want to be the best.”

Fox asked the people who know him best to list his best qualities and he compared them with his own self assessment and came up with those four P’s.

Playing with passion, persistence, perseverance and patience, Fox found a way to stay on the field. He related a story of playing in Triple-A with the Iowa Cubs. He came up as a catcher and was working out before a game as a third baseman when his manager came to him.

“‘Of all the players I ever managed or coached, you’ve got the most out of your ability,’” said Fox of the words he heard that day. “That’s probably the biggest compliment I ever got.”

The manager went on to say that Fox did not have the physical ability of some of his teammates, but he possessed something special and said: “You come out here and find ways to compete. You’re trying a different position not because you have to but because you want to. You’re trying to get better.”

Fox said he was not equipped to talk about being a superstar, but he could speak to the effort it takes to get the most out of his God-given talent.

“My nose was to the grindstone,” said Fox. “I was so concentrated on where I wanted to go that I never actually sat down and thought about what got me there.”

Fox and his closest friends and family agree that he has passion.

“I loved to play baseball and if you don’t love it, it’s not going to last long,” said Fox. “This game can chew you up and spit you out.”

The IHSBCA All-Star alum also encouraged the current All-Stars to enjoy baseball as a team game — something that often goes away when professionals are competing for jobs and playing time and looking out more for themselves than chasing victories.

“That’s why I enjoyed playing in Mexico and playing independent ball,” said Fox. “Guys were just out there playing games.

“There was a time in Triple-A that I hated the most. It didn’t even matter what team was on the other side of the field. It was a competition in your own dugout. That’s not baseball.

For Fox it was about enjoying the competition and seizing the opportunities.

“At the end of the day — even with all the business things — you go out and play,” said Fox. “No matter where it is. No matter what country you’re in. No matter what level you’re at. We get too caught up in where you play and not how you play.”

How about persistence and perseverance?

“Everyday in the major leagues, I was overmatched physically,” said Fox. “These guys were 5-star athletes. I had to find a way to compete. You’ve got to be persistent. Coach Maloney said to me, ‘You know what the second-most favorite thing about you was: You never took ‘no’ for an answer.’”

Fox got much of his MLB playing time on the days when a regular would ask off with a particularly tough pitcher going that day for the other team?

“If you name a tough left-handed pitchers between 2007 and 2011, I probably faced them,” said Fox. “(The regular) would come in and say, ‘CC Sabathia’s pitching today? I don’t feel so good.’”

“When I stepped in that box, I feel I had nothing to lose. They could be a Hall of Famer. What did I care? That’s what made me as good as I was. I just wanted to play.”

Fox also learned to be patient.

“It doesn’t happen on your time,” said Fox. “You can feel like you’re ready. You can feel like you deserve it and you see other people take your place. But you keep playing and you will get your chance.

“They pass guys over because they are too busy complaining (about being slighted).”

Fox reflected on his career and said it was not the numbers he put up but the times he spent with teammates and families and the places he got to see along the way.

“I encourage you to enjoy the journey,” said Fox to the All-Stars. “You don’t know where it’s going to take you. You don’t. You show up everyday, you play hard and you have fun doing it and the rest will take care of itself.

“I once had a friend tell me, ‘You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.’ He’s right. You have no idea where this game is going to take you. You have no idea where life is going to take you.”

To illustrate his point, Fox talked about being invited to big league spring training with the Cubs in 2007 and where it led him.

It was Lou Piniella’s first season as manager and Chicago’s top two catchers — Henry Blanco and Michael Barrett — were called away to the World Baseball Classic. Fox was with the big club, but spent his sweaty afternoons warming up pitchers in the bullpen.

“I knew I was getting sent back down. I knew I wasn’t making the team. But I got the experience. I knew what the scouting report was about me: Good hitter. Can’t play defense. It bothered me. I wanted (Pineilla) to see what I was or wasn’t capable of doing before he read it in a report that I didn’t agree with.”

When Barrett came back from the WBC, Fox was the lone player on the roster who had not logged an at-bat or a defensive inning.

Barrett encouraged Fox to say something to the coaching staff.

The Hoosier finally worked up the courage ask for a chance to show what he could do before going to minor league camp.

Fox got his wish. He would play at the end of an away game against the Royals.

Called to hurry from the bullpen, Fox scrambled to the dugout and to the plate and socked the second pitch he saw — a slider — for a double off the wall.

In the ninth, Fox belts a first-pitch home run to plate the decisive run in a Cubs victory.

The next day, the Milwaukee Brewers came to visit the Cubs. Fox started the game on bullpen duty. When called upon to hit late in the game, he pops another first-pitch homer.

“I’ve seen four pitches (in big league camp) and have two homers and a couple,” said Fox.

The next day, Cubs bench coach Alan Trammel told the team to “keep it close until Fox can hit.”

Fox again homers that day.

“I thought I was going to black out,” said Fox.

The next day against the San Francisco Giants, Fox was called in from he bullpen to play left field — for the first time in his life.

Sent back to the minors, Fox opened the season by playing in the outfield and made his debut July 19 in right field at Wrigley Field.

“It just goes to show you that you never know where this game is going to take you,” said Fox. “I played five different positions in the big leagues (right field, left field, catcher, first base, third base). For a guy who couldn’t use a glove, I thought that was pretty good.

“So don’t ever put yourself in a box or limit yourself. Somebody else may see a capability in you that you don’t see yourself.”

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Jake Fox, shown with the independent Somerset Patriots, played 14 professional seasons and was a 2000 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant. (Somerset Patriots Photo)