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ABCA’s Sheetinger covers the bases of college baseball recruiting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Navigating the maze that can be college baseball recruiting, players and their parents can use some straight-forward answers.

Jeremy Sheetinger, a former college player and coach who is now College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association and ABCA “Calls from the Clubhouse” Podcast host, travels the country to offer advice.

That’s just what he did recently in a visit to the South Bend Cubs/1st Source Bank Performance Center as guest of director Mark Haley and Indiana University South Bend head coach Doug Buysse.

Sheetinger, who played at Franklin County (Ky.) High School and Kentucky Wesleyan College (NCAA Division II) and was an assistant and recruiting coordinator at both Brescia University (NAIA) and assistant at Georgetown College (NAIA), Director of Operations at the University of Kentucky (D-I), lead assistant and recruiting coordinator at Saint Joseph’s College (D-II) in Indiana and head coach at Spalding University (D-III) in Louisville, packed in plenty of information.

The high-energy Sheetinger, who now lives in Greensboro, N.C., where the ABCA is headquartered, and also serves as a associate scout with the Atlanta Braves, covered coach evaluations, parents’ impact and role, contact with coaches, campus visits, resources, differences in collegiate levels, finding the right fit, making a recruiting video, camps and showcases and a timeline for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

EVALUATION

Sheetinger, who has given talks on recruiting about 2,000 times and worked baseball camps in 35 different states, says coaches are always evaluating and projecting players.

They use their past experiences and players to judge current players.

“We’ve got to use what we know to be true,” says Sheetinger. “If I see a kid who’s 6-2, 180 with a clean right-handed swing, I will remember a player who went on to be a conference player of the year. If I see 5-7, 135 with a bad swing (and short parents), I know that kid is never going to be 6-2.

“I’m looking at you through the eyes of all the players I ever coached. Mom and dad, it has nothing to do with your opinion of him as a player.”

If catchers take too long to get rid of the baseball with a very slow POP time, but can mash at the plate, they might help a college team as a first baseman.

A player with strong, accurate arm who can run might be a fit in a college outfield. But that throw must be on the money.

“When it’s time to throw something out, you’ve got to throw somebody out,” says “Coach Sheets.”

It’s also possible that movement that hurts a player in the outfielder helps him as a pitcher.

What about that big-bodied kid at shortstop for his high school?

“He can’t play short in college, but he’s got a great arm,” says Sheetinger. “Where can he play for me? Third base.”

The five baseball tools are hit for power, hit for average, defense, arm strength and running speed.

The average high school player has an exit ball velocity of 75 to 84 mph, average arm velo of 70 to 80 mph in the field, 70 to 75 mph at catcher and a 60-yard dash time of 7.0 to 7.2 seconds.

“I’m not telling your how to spend your money,” says Sheetinger. “Hitting lessons are great. Pitching lessons are great. But think about speed lessons and conditioning lessons.

“Think about going to the track at 6 o’clock in the morning and running sprints. You go, Sheets, what are you talking about? I’m not going to the track at 6 a.m. That’s why you run a 7.9. I’ll be your best friend if you just let me.”

Velocity is not the ultimate indicator for pitchers. Pitch control, secondary pitches, composure and maturity, athleticism and handling the running game are more important.

For all players, there are intangibles like attitude, leadership, energy, Baseball I.Q., confidence, clutch and the will to win.

“College coaches are watching everything,” says Sheetinger. “They don’t miss a beat. When you’re in a showcase event or you’re in a game and coaches are present and you hit a ground ball back to the pitcher, I want to see your best 90 time.

“That stuff matters. Run your best time every time.”

Sheetinger says players are evaluated on how they handle adversity and points to the example of a recruiting trip he made while at Saint Joseph’s, looking to offer a 75 percent scholarship to a pitcher.

This kid had stuff. But he also had an attitude, though the man calling balls and strikes was squeezing him and did not hesitate to let everyone in the ballpark know it.

“Bad umpires are multiplying daily,” says Sheetinger. “That ain’t going away. I’m more interested in your body language and presence.”

The pitcher enjoyed two lights-out innings then ran into adversity in the third.

He plunked the first batter, uncorked a wild pitch to send the runner to second and then gave up a duck snort and a double in the gap. A mound visit from his coach was greeted by plenty of walking around, cap removal and lack of eye contact.

“We’ve got maturity issues,” says Sheetinger.

The coach returns to the dugout and it’s duck snort, double and another hit-by-pitch.

When the coach comes back out to take the pitcher out, the youngster heaves the ball toward the sky and the coach catches when it comes down. Before the pitcher crosses the foul line, he fires his glove into the dugout.

Recruiting visit over.

On another recruiting trip, Sheetinger remembers seeing the opposite kind of behavior. A strong No. 3 hitter popped up on the infield in a key situation.

With Sheetinger’s eyes following him the whole way, the player carries his helmet and bat to the dugout, does a 30-second re-set, puts down his equipment and his back on the rail cheering before the No. 4 hitters sees his first pitch.

“That’s a great teammate,” says Sheetinger. “That’s a really good kid. Two weeks later, he gets a Division I offer. He was never going to come to play for me. But I like watching kids like that.

“It doesn’t show up on paper. But things matter.”

Sheetinger says it is easy to measure things like fastball velocity and 60-yard time. But not everything fits on a spreadsheet.

“Some things you can’t coach,” says Sheetinger. “Can you really coach someone to hustle? I can probably put fear into you to hustle. But either you hustle or you don’t.  It’s like either your pants are on-fire or they’re not. It’s not up to me to light your pants on-fire. It’s who you are internally.”

These kinds of players won’t get out-worked. They need to be taken seriously.

PARENTS’ IMPACT AND ROLE

Parents can either be a huge positive or negative influence on their son’s recruitment.

What parents do could be the first impression a coach gets about the player.

“Parents, as a college coach and as a scout, I don’t think you’re sweet when you yell at umpires,” says Sheetinger. “That’s the biggest turn-off for me of anything you do.

“Nobody barks at you when you flip burgers, let him do his job. If you want to be a coach so you can bark at umpires, apply for the job. If you need to do that, go to some other team’s game so we can track it back to your kid on the field.

“I assure you I’ve asked over a hundred people in the stands at a showcase ‘who’s dad is that?’

“Please change your ways. It reflects bad on your son.”

The Blame Game is not welcome.

“If you something against your high school coach, ask yourself this question: Does he really have something against my kid or is my kid just not good enough?,” says Sheetinger. “Most coaches will play the best players because most coaches like winning.”

Coaches pick up on how parents and players talk and act toward one another.

Players are expected to be in the forefront of the recruiting process.

Sheetinger encourages players to spend two hours twice a week doing online research on their college choices. If they are decided on their major, they start with that and see how many possible schools offer it. Then the look at the performance of the baseball program through archives, rosters and statistics.

“If a school has gone 10-40 10 years in a row, guess what Year 11 is going to look like?,” says Sheetinger. “If that coach has been there 10 years and they won five his first year, 10 his second, 20 his third year, 25 the next years and the last three years they’ve won the conference championship, that dude’s building something. The coach can’t hide that.

“Do your homework.”

The young athletes should be the ones communicating with coaches through minimal calls and emails.

“Players, take ownership of this process,” says Sheetinger. “I don’t want emails from mom and dad.”

CONTACT WITH COACHES

Email is the best way to reach out/introduce yourself to a college coach.

These emails should come from an appropriate address and be “meat and potatoes” — Subject … Name … Graduation Year … Position(s) … Hometown/High School … Grades … Research … Video link (include this with every correspondence).

Players should expects emails, texts and calls from coaches and be quick to respond to them.

Sheetinger advises players to treat every program as the most important one and to be respectful of the coach’s time and efforts.

Evaluation is still happening and communication is the key. Body language, eye contact, handshakes and paying attention all matter.

How do players talk?

What is important to them?

Sheetinger compares recruiting to dating.

“I like you,” says Sheetinger. “I’m going to try to convince you to like me.”

“I’m going to give you my spiel. We’re going to get to know your son because in a way because coaches step in as pseudo-stepfathers. We need to have a relationship. We need to have a bond. We’ve got to get along. (Parents) won’t be there.”

CAMPUS VISITS

This gives a player and his family a glance at the coaches, program, campus life and academics.

They will meet with the admissions and financial aid departments and get a campus tour etc.

Coaches will run the first visit.

Sheetinger says players should do 90 percent of the talking and parents 10 percent.

Players may make 10 official visits (spend the night) and unlimited unofficial visits (day visits).

On these visits, players are allowed to work out at D-II, NAIA and junior college schools but not at D-I and D-III.

There is a difference between a Baseball Visit (set up through the baseball staff) and Admissions Visit (no guarantee to see the baseball staff).

RESOURCES

College/University websites offer information on admissions and financial aid as well as biographies, archives, statistics and rosters for the baseball program.

Other helpful sites and resources: NCAA.org (rules, info), NCAA.com (stats, champions), NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly Clearinghouse; helps with collection of transcripts, core classes; D-I and D-II must register; cost is $65), NAIA.org, NAIA Eligibility Center (handles transcripts; all players must register; $75), FAFSA.gov (Due Oct. 1 of Senior Year), high school guidance counselor.

DIFFERENCE IN COLLEGIATE LEVELS

NCAA Division I (295 programs) may offer 11.7 max scholarships if fully funded (60 percent). Roster limits are 35 at the end of the fall with 27 on 25-percent scholarship.

Recruiting has ramped up for the majority of D-I teams.

NCAA Division II (254 programs) can give 9.0 max scholarships if fully funded (40 percent). There is no roster limit. That number will be set by the school, athletic department or coaches.

The top program work ahead in recruiting. Most are year-to-year.

NCAA Division III (383 programs) does not offer athletic scholarships. It is all academic- and financial-aid based. Like D-II, rosters are only limited by program choice.

Early decisions and admission dates are important. Most schools are year-to-year with their recruiting.

NAIA (187 program) may offer 12.0 max scholarships with exemptions. Again, there is no association-dictated roster limit. The majority of programs recruit year-to-year.

Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, is one of the best college teams in the country regardless of level. The Warriors have won the NAIA World Series 19 times, including 2015, 2016 and 2017.

NJCAA (410 programs across 3 divisions) gives 24.0 max scholarships in D-I, 24.0 max Tuition scholarships (no room and board) in D-II and zero athletic scholarships in D-III. The association imposes no roster limits. Recruiting is year-to-year at most of these two-year institutions.

Tyler (Texas) Junior College has taken the last four straight NJCAA Division III national titles.

Sheetinger says there is great baseball at all levels. The top teams in D-II, D-III, NAIA and NJCAA can win games on the D-I level.

He sums it up by saying that at the upper levels of D-I, most programs are already 90 to 95 percent done getting commitments from current seniors (Class of 2018) with juniors (Class of 2019) 80 percent done, sophomores (Class of 2020) 60 percent complete and freshmen (Class of 2021) 30 to 40 percent already committed.

“That’s how accelerated recruiting has gotten,” says Sheetinger. “It wasn’t that way 10 years ago.

The ABCA recently conducted a recruiting summit. A panel of 16 coaches came up with a proposed recruiting calendar to calm down the early signings.

“Coaches don’t like evaluating 13-year-olds,” says Sheetinger. “It’s hard enough to project a 16-year-old. D-II, D-III, NAIA and junior college are hot on this senior class. You’ve got to keep things in perspective.

“There are a lot more opportunities out there.”

Sheetinger says the reason many people recall their college years so fondly is because they are 18 to 22 and away from their parents and figuring out what kind of man, worker, husband and father they’re going to be. They are sorting out their religious and political views.

Take 35 guys spending nine months together on busses and in dorm rooms, weight rooms, locker rooms and cafeterias while figuring this out and you see the beginnings of lifelong bonds.

“It’s the best experience of your life,” says Sheetinger. “If you can go play, you should go play.”

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Players must be a fit for a program, taking into consideration that coach’s style and the recruiting class.

Sheetinger likes to use the analogy of the fork with each prong being a priority in the college decision-making process. The fork could have as many as five prongs.

Prongs are sure to include academics and fit. Does a school offer the degree a player wants and how does he fit into the needs of the baseball program?

“You never go to play at a school that doesn’t offer a degree that you in your heart of hearts really want,” says Sheetinger.

Other things to consider are social atmosphere on-campus, location/geography and the cost.

A player might social butterfly and being in clubs or fraternities and going to concerts is important.

How big is the college compared to the player’s high school or hometown?

Is the school close enough for parents to regularly attend games?

How’s the weather?

If you don’t like the cold, maybe a school in upper Michigan is probably not for you.

If players have not asked their parents how much they are willing to pay out-of-pocket, they need to have that conversation.

Sheetinger says it is best to funnel down toward a players’ top choices of schools from 10 to 5 to 3.

Players should be aggressive, working toward and “yes” or “no” answer.

Can I play here or not?

Responses from coaches should be treated as hot leads. Response should be quick and player should try to get more info on the program and work toward campus visits.

MAKING A RECRUITING VIDEO

A professional video is not necessary. A good smartphone video will do the trick.

But a video is key. It gives coaches instant evaluation.

The video should be short. Position players will have five swing views from the side and five from the front or behind. Show a variety of defensive movement and throws (maximum of 8).

If a player has speed, show it with a 60-yard home-to-first video clip.

Pitching videos will show five fastballs, five curves and five change-ups from the wind-up and three each from the stretch.

Game footage must be edited.

Contact info, stats and coach’s info may be included.

CAMPS AND SHOWCASES

Players interested in a particular school are encouraged to go to their camp and be seen by their staff.

They must be mindful of database emails (every email doesn’t mean they are being recruited) and the “Cattle Calls” approach to camp population and marketing.

Campers should ask if other colleges will be attending. The price should be justified with how many possible evaluations they will receive by their attendance.

Sheetinger says it’s important to think of the coach’s perspective.

They notice players who stand out (bright cap and stirrups and name on the back of a jersey is helpful) and ones who exhibit hustle, energy, positivity and confidence.

A handshake and a thank you to every coach at the end of camp will go a long way.

TIMELINE

Freshmen are pointed toward strength and speed training, attending camps to get familiar with that environment and focusing on grades etc.

Sophomores continue with strength and speed training and camps and after the high school season begin emailing college coaches with info, videos, summer schedule etc.

Juniors have a very important year and season. They are looking to get their name out there. They do the training and camps and showcases in front of a large number of college coaches. They send emails to college coaches before the summer begins. They begin to funnel their list of schools.

Seniors  have a very active year. They do all the training and attend unsigned senior events. They are aggressive with emails to coaches and ask for campus visits. In the fall, they have campus visits, submit applications and many will commit. In the spring and summer, they will make final visits and commit.

ABCA CONVENTION

The ABCA national convention is coming Jan. 4-7, 2018 to the Indiana Convention Center and JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. More than 6,000 coaches and 330 exhibiting companies are expected.

JEREMYSHEETINGERCORNBELTSPORTSCREDIT

Jeremy Sheetinger is College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association. He was in South Bend recently to advise players, parents and coaches about college recruiting. (Cornbelt Sports Photo)

 

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Mental, physical toughness important to Concord’s Lehmann

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Walter Lehmann developed a philosophy about baseball as a player and it has followed him into coaching.

Effort does not have to take a day off.

“I’d rather have a kid that is going to give that max effort all the time than the kid next to him who may be a little bit more talented,” says Lehmann, who was recently hired as head baseball coach at Concord High School. “When I was a player, I never hit the ball the best or was the fastest or had the best arm.”

And yet Lehmann excelled at Mishawaka Marian High School (graduating at in 2007) and played at Bethel College in Mishawaka (graduating in 2001). He was primarily a catcher.

Lehmann had his competitive fire stoked while playing at Marian for former Notre Dame player Tim Prister.

“He taught you confidence in yourself and your team,” says Lehmann, who knew Prister beginning in first grade thanks to being a youth sports teammate of Tim’s son, Eric. “(Tim taught us about) being mentally and physically tough. If you have that physical edge, it brings that mental edge.”

Lehmann, who went to St. Jude Catholic School in South Bend for grades K-8, learned which teammates he could trust based on how they responded during grueling workouts.

Who’s going to show up on time?

Who’s going to put in that extra effort?

Who’s going lead the pack?

Those shared experiences can built chemistry, which comes in hand with the team down a run in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Lehmann picked up more passion and baseball knowledge at Bethel from head coach Seth Zartman and assistants Dick Siler and Javier Jimenez.

“(Siler) cared about us as people and not just as baseball players,” says Lehmann of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “The same is true with Coach Zartman. His biggest concern was what life was going to be for us after baseball.

“(Jimenez) had a passion for the game and was there for you each day.”

Lehmann went into business for a few years while coaching baseball at Marian and in the summer with the South Bend Silver Hawks/South Bend Cubs Youth Baseball Club teams and officiating hockey in the winter (he played two high school seasons in that sport).

Working with the youth teams and at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center, Lehmann lapped up the advice being handed out by veteran pro baseball men Mark Haley and Curt Hasler.

He also decided to enter Bethel’s transition-to-teaching program. After a year at Mishawaka Catholic School, Lehmann now leads social studies students at Concord High School.

“I’ve been excited to come into work each day,” says Lehmann, who turns 29 in September.

The coach is also emphasize his message of extra effort and essential skills to the Minutemen.

“I want to make sure we do the fundamentals well,” says Lehmann. “A lot of teams try to do too much and they don’t execute the basics well.

“You can win a lot of high school baseball games by throwing strikes, (correctly) running the bases and playing defense. If we lose a game, I want it to be because we got beat and not because we gave them the win. If our pitchers are throwing strikes and they beat us, it happens.”

One of Lehmann’s favorite practice drills is called “21 Outs” and involves a coach with a fungo bat and a defense trying to record all the outs without an error.

“We want to have that defensive mentality,” says Lehmann. “We’re not giving more than 21 outs. This is what they get.”

Lehmann follows Eric Nielsen, who resigned to go into private business. The new coach is in the process of assembling his assistants for 2017-18.

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Walter Lehmann, a graduate of Mishawaka Marian High School and Bethel College, is now head baseball coach at Concord High School. (Concord High School Photo)

 

Buysse busy building baseball program at IUSB

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Buysse has hit the ground running as the first full-time baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend.

Buysse, who was hired July 25 after serving three seasons as head baseball coach at South Bend Washington High School, has been assembling his coaching staff and preparing for the arrival of his players (fall semester begins Monday, Aug. 21.).

That’s when implementation of the program’s culture can begin in earnest.

After talking with seniors and other returnees, Buysse has found that the players want a brotherhood.

“A big part of our fall will be building a hard-working, positive, all-in-the-same-boat culture,” says Buysse. “They are very excited. They really want that bond as a team.”

The idea is to be selfless and care more about teammates than themselves.

There will be practices and intra-squad games in the fall as Buysse and his players become familiar with one another.

“It’s going to be a learning experience all the way around,” says Buysse. “We’ll see what Titan baseball looks like moving forward.”

A three-week break in October will allow players to get a break from daily baseball activities while they continue to lift weights, condition and go to class.

Buysse ticked off the program’s priorities.

“They start off the field,” says Buysse. “We want to develop men; everyone graduates. After that comes the classroom. Wins and losses are down the list.”

Daily class checks are likely with Buysse and his staff. All newcomers will be required to spent a minimum of four hours per week in study table. All players will be expected to use these resources until they have a 3.0 grade-point average or better.

Buysse has set a goal of a 3.4 accumulative team GPA. That’s for the fall and the spring.

“I’m not a big believer in relaxing expectations during the season,” says Buysse.

The grade rule is not meant to be punitive but to show them what is available to them.

“We’re trying to show these guys all the tools they need to be successful (on the field and off) and showing them how to use those tools,” says Buysse. “If they graduate, they’ll graduate with an IU degree and that will open more doors than playing college baseball will.

“The resources they have here are just unbelievable. I have are just unbelievable. I have the backing of the administration. They want to see this be a success.”

The John Glenn High School and Saint Joseph’s College graduate has hired Trace Myers as a part-time assistant. Chris Mangus, Luke Gaboury and Kyle Liedtky will be volunteer student assistants while Kyle Heeter is the strength and conditioning coach.

Myers comes from the University of Notre Dame, where he was director of operations for the rowing program. Mangus was the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the year last spring and is working to finish his degree.

The Titans, a member of the NAIA and CCAC, go into the fall with a roster of 31 players. That includes about a half dozen recruits and transfers.

Buysse played at SJC for Rick O’Dette (now at St. Leo University in Florida) and the coach told his players “baseball is 10 percent of what we do.”

Saint Joseph’s shut its doors in May, taking the baseball program with it. With Buysse at IUSB and the Titans playing many of their games in Chicago, he expects to see many SJC alums to back his program next spring.

Buysse will have his assistants out on the recruiting trail this fall, attending showcases and working at camps.

IUSB is looking to fill its schedule, which is capped at 55 games.

Newton Park in Lakeville, about 11 miles southwest of campus, will be the Titans’ home facility.

As a joint effort between the school and Newton Park, the baseball team will provide a labor force to get things done at the complex and the owners will supply materials.

IUSB will have priority at the field.

“They want us there and are willing to work with us,” says Buysse.

The Titans will work to be very visible in the community, appearing at local schools and participating in service projects.

Buysse has been active with the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and the new South Bend Cubs Foundation and expects to continue in some capacity.

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Doug Buysse is the new head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. (IUSB Photo)

 

Bringing opportunities through foundation is goal of Haley and company

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bringing opportunity to youngsters is what drives Mark Haley and others as they plan for the future.

Haley, who managed the South Bend Silver Hawks for 10 Midwest League seasons (2005-14) and now runs the 1st Source Bank/South Bend Cubs Performance Center, guides a travel baseball program with seven teams in 2017.

Squads are divided by high school graduation class. There is one team made up of all Penn High School players.

The South Bend Cubs Youth Baseball Club is part of the Chicago Scouts Association I-94 Conference. Member teams play Saturday and Sunday wood-bat doubleheaders in Indiana and Illinois. Games are seven innings each with no extra innings.

“The emphasis is on good competition to show ability,” says Haley.

South Bend Cubs travel tryouts for the 2018 are scheduled for Aug. 2 at Four Winds Field.

Travel ball can lead to college baseball which could lead to the pro ranks.

But Haley knows it’s not for everyone.

“If you don’t have that passion it’s not worth it because you sacrifice things people don’t realize,” says Haley.

The baseball veteran is also part of a group of passionate community leaders looking to launch the South Bend Cubs Foundation. Application has been made for 501 (c) 3 non-profit status for an organization that will include baseball and softball travel teams plus bring baseball to youth in South Bend’s inner-city.

“We’re located in downtown South Bend, but we draw mostly from outside South Bend,” says Haley of Performance Center clients and travel ball players. “We want to change the whole culture and develop (inner-city kids) as athletes and as a community.”

To accomplish this, Haley and others have been meeting with South Bend city and school officials and educators.

“The community has to accept it,” says Haley. “We have to make it appealing to the kids.

“It’s going to be fun to watch. A lot of people will be getting involved that have not been involved in the past.”

The timeline for launching the program has not yet been determined.

“We’ve got to create the skeleton first,” says Haley. “We’ve got the muscle behind us.”

In addition, Haley is trying to help local Little League parks run local tournaments and help players transition from 50/70 to 60-6/90 fields, which usually happens near the end of junior high and the beginning of high school.

“Our goal every weekend is to have every baseball being used,” says Haley. “None sit idle.”

SBCUBSTRAVEL

Indiana Land Sharks travel organization enjoys great growth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Can’t you see them circling … the bases?

The Indiana Land Sharks are coming to a diamond near you.

The travel organization based in northern Indiana and southern Indiana is fielding 26 teams — 22 baseball and four softball — with 290 players in 2017.

Ages are 8U to 17U for baseball and 10U to 16U for softball. The only baseball division that does not have more than one team in 17U. There is one team each for the four softball age groups. Teams are distinguished by the colors blue, gray and black.

The first Land Sharks team was run by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and South Bend resident Jim Reinebold in 2003 at the invitation of Clint Emberton (father of Chad Emberton), Dr. Karl Schultz (father of Kyle Schultz) and Russ Stines (father of Brenden Stines).

The Land Sharks were a top-10 finisher in a big tournament at Wide World of Sports in Florida.

A later team featured future major leaguer Ryan Strausborger.

The program was re-birthed with one one in 2009 and expanded to five in 2012.

In 2015, a new indoor training facility was added in Niles, Mich., and the Land Sharks began fielding girls softball teams.

A second indoor facility (Niles Sports Warehouse) is managed by the Land Sharks.

“We just grew so quickly,” says Jim Robinson, Land Sharks athletic director and an owner along with Marc Waite, John Baxter and Joel Reinebold. “We’re offering a product people want.”

Based on training space, teams were actually turned away.

All coaches are volunteers and many are associated with high schools.

“We are advocates of the high school game,” says Robinson.

8U players typically play three to six tournaments per season. These families are exploring travel baseball to see if it’s for them.

“We encourage (players on) 8U teams to play rec ball and experience travel ball,” says Robinson. “9U also plays at limited travel schedule.”

By the time they reach 10U, they are usually playing a full travel schedule. From that age until high school, they might play up to 50 games from early April until Aug. 1 (when high school sports practices start).

Needing more pitching, high school teams may carry 14 or 15 players on a roster. The younger ones usually go with 11.

High school players cease off-season training with the Land Sharks once their school teams fill their rosters and they don’t begin their travel season until they are released from their school teams, making for a shorter season of four or five tournaments.

Tryouts are usually held the second weekend of August.

While there is natural attrition as families move or players gravitate to another sport or activity, Robinson says retention is pretty high from season to season, meaning many teams may be only looking to fill a few spots.

“People follow good organization and good coaching,” says Robinson. “The chemistry of the parents is also very important. (Travel ball) is your summer family. Kids travel and room together (on road trips). So many families have multiple kids playing. They depend on people they trust.”

Some teams stay together year after year. Take the current 17U baseball team. This team — coached by Tom Washburn, John Kehoe and Dennis Ryans — has been together since 10U.

This familiarity has been a key to development.

“We’re different from a lot of the teams we play,” says Washburn, who coaches older son Andrew (lead-off hitter on the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state champion South Bend St. Joseph Indians) on the 17U team and also younger son Joseph on a 10U team. “Each year we can teach these guys a little bit more. Many travel teams don’t have time to practice and it becomes knowledge vs. talent.”

New Prairie High School graduate Washburn played for Tony Robichaux at McNeese State. South Bend Washington graduate Kehoe was in the Toronto Blue Jays system. South Bend LaSalle product Ryans the New York Yankees organization.

Washburn calls the 10U team a hybrid with travel and Chet Waggoner Little League games on its schedule.

In either scenario, it’s all about learning how to play.

“At 10, I’m more concerned with their development than winning a bunch of trophies,” says Washburn. “We learn to run pick-offs at second, the hit-and-run and proper bunt. We learn about running a first and third defense and cut-offs. It’s amazing to me. These 10 year-old kids pick it up quick.”

Washburn, a longtime Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp instructor who took his sons to former Land Shark Strausborger for tips at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center during the winter, says the reason so many people gravitate to travel ball and away from Little League and the like is because it offers more traditional rules at younger ages.

“It’s just different baseball,” says Washburn. “The younger boys learn to lead off, hold runners on as pitchers and catchers learn to give signs.”

Washburn also sees the appeal of summer travel ball tournaments with a concentrated group of talented player to college coaches who are busy coaching their own players during the spring.

Each Land Sharks team typically makes at least one big trip. Robinson had a team in Omaha, Neb., tournament last weekend, where they got to take in College World Series games.

Land Sharks teams play in Baseball Player’s Association, Gameday USA, Bomb Squad, Bullpen, Pastime, United States Specialty Sports Association and National Softball Association events.

Some popular game sites include Grand Park, Newton Park, City-County Athletic Complex in Warsaw, some Michigan City parks and Belleville Softball Complex in South Bend.

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The Indiana Land Sharks travel baseball and softball organization traces its origins back to the 2003 Michiana Land Sharks. In 2017, the outfit has 26 teams — 22 baseball and four softball. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Diamondbacks’ Bryk still learning after decades around baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bill Bryk is a grateful guy.

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

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

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

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

“It’s time to give back to the game.”

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

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

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

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

In November 2010, he joined the Diamondbacks.

Almost five decades in, Bryk is still gaining knowledge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryk, who advises on player trades, acquisitions and roster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Positivity, energy, versatility explored at Cubbies Coaches Club

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Don’t focus on what they’re doing wrong.

Figure out a way to do it the right way.

That was one of the messages at the monthly Cubbies Coaches Club hosted by the South Bend Cubs Performance Center.

When the shortstop boots a grounder or a catcher throws a ball a mile over the second baseman’s head, it’s easy to see that was a mistake.

“Everybody understands what you’re doing wrong,” Performance Center director Mark Haley said. “The hard part is getting it right.”

The key question for the player is: What should I have done?

Getting to players at the youth and high school levels to understand that is important.

Having that message delivered in a civil manner is also very helpful.

Veteran coach Jeff Buysse, father of Performance Center hitting and catching instructor and South Bend Washington High School head coach Doug Buysse, tells a story about former Washington coach Ric Tomaszewski to prove the point.

“T-6” was appearing at a coaches clinic in Illinois that had the coaches attempting to hit balls off the tee.

“They’re knocking the tees over,” Jeff Buysse said of a session led by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “All of a sudden I hear that voice that I’ve heard so much: ‘STOP! Did you guys not listen to a word I said?’ His veins are popping out. He’s pacing and saying things like ‘Did you guys not listen?’ Then he stopped and asked, ‘Did that feel good? Is that going to make you better at hitting the ball off the tee?’”

So instead of yelling at the 10-year-old that is having trouble doing the same thing or some other baseball activity, calmly point out the correct way of doing it and don’t leave them cowering in fear.

If the kid can play loose, he’s more likely to play with a spring in his step.

It’s energy that coaches want to see from players.

Haley and Doug Buysse were catchers as players and see that energy is especially critical behind the dish, where you can’t take a pitch off or it becomes costly to the whole team.

“The guy that has the high energy and takes change are the guys who will get a chance (at the pro level),” Haley said. “Everybody watches them and they create energy.”

Hyper guys can good catchers.

“It’s amazing how that just plays into the cards for him,” Haley said. “He’s got everything covered. He never gets bored.”

Buysse, who was a receiver at Washington and Saint Joseph’s College, wants a spark plug for a catcher.

“The kid that’s the loudest, that’s the one I want behind the plate,” Doug Buysse said.

At Washington, Buysse expects his players to be selfless, selling out for their teammates, and to bring energy.

“That’s what you are supposed to bring everyday and we have an energy target,” Doug Buysse said. “Most days we lose.”

Haley, who spent 23 seasons as a coach or manager on the player development side of professional baseball including 10 as manager of the South Bend Silver Hawks (2015-14), now coaches travel teams in the I-94 League. He wants to win, but the emphasis is placed elsewhere.

“It’s about teammates, relationships, responsibility,” Haley said.

The goal for Haley and company is lifting the level of baseball in the area and will lend a hand to any player or coach trying to do things the right way. Attending CCC sessions or having days with leagues or teams are a few ways to make this happen.

“We’ll help as much as we can,” Haley said.

Making relationships at the next level is helpful and Doug Buysse takes his Washington players to a Notre Dame game every year. The players and parents get to see the difference between high school and NCAA Division I talent.

One question was posed by a Little League coach about playing multiple positions.

The consensus: Don’t lock yourself in so early when they are still learning the game. Even well-established players will change positions. Haley pointed out that Buster Posey transitioned from shortstop to catcher.

Doug Buysse remembers that when he coached JV baseball and asked each player their position. Pitcher and shortstop was the response each time.

“They can’t all be that,” Doug Buysse said. “Pick something else.”

Even though that team didn’t win too many games, players bought into the always-hustling mentality and sprinted out to the foul line after each game and awaited Buysse’s post-game remarks.

The next Cubbies Coaches Club meeting is slated for Tuesday, March 21. RSVP at least a week in advance to Doug Buysee at michianacoachesclub@gmail.com.

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Doug Buysse