Tag Archives: South Bend Cubs

Berlin marks 10 years as South Bend Cubs owner; growth on the horizon

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

It was on this date 10 years ago that Andrew T. Berlin purchased the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs from former Governor of Indiana and U.S. Navy veteran Joe Kernan.
Wanting to make the occasion memorable, the transaction came on Veterans Day 2011 – 11-11-11 — at 11:11 a.m.
In the last decade, Berlin and the Minor League Baseball franchise affiliated with the Chicago Cubs have helped make many memories for visitors to Four Winds Field.
“When I think about the last 10 years so much has happened – not just when it comes to baseball or even South Bend but the world at large,” said Berlin to a media gathering at the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Life-changing events have affected all of us as we go through the years.
“It all puts everything into perspective. What’s marvelous about baseball is that it provides a foundation for the gathering of friends and family and loved ones. And I take that job very seriously. It’s not just baseball. It’s about the community. It’s about the people. It’s about having fun and celebrating life. And if there was ever a time to do that, it’s probably now as the world struggles to re-open (from the COVID-19 pandemic).”
Berlin looks at the area near the ballpark and sees a rebirth in the past decade — not only commercial but from a population standpoint.
Downtown South Bend continues to grow the development and continues to enjoy investments,” said Berlin. “It feels safer. It feels more vibrant. And the stadium – I’m happy to say — continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the community as well.”
According to AECOM, the South Bend Cubs provide $24 million annual economic impact to the region (based on information provided by the team).
Through various charitable efforts, the club has donated nearly $1.6 million and invested over $32 million into facilities that would improve not only the ballpark, but the community as a whole.
Plans are in the works to expand Four Winds Field (capacity 5,000 permanent seats), adding an upper deck and more suites.
“There’s tremendous investment that’s going to be done in our ballpark over the next several years,” said Berlin, who put millions of his own dollars into keeping the team in South Bend and upgrading the park. “We’re going to be enlarging the stadium and offering more amenities. And making it a place that is comfortable.”
The park – then known as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium aka “The Cove” — was built in 1987 it cost a little under $4 million. He has been told that to built the same stadium that now exists it would run in the neighborhood of $85 million.
At the time Berlin bought the team from Kernan, Berlin was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chicago-based Berlin Packaging (he is now part of defense firm Shield AI) and the South Bend Silver Hawks were an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate.
Near the end of 2014 came the opportunity to be tied to the Chicago Cubs.
“That was an extraordinary event for the team,” said Berlin. “But I also have to say it was a fantastic vote of confidence in South Bend and the Michiana region.
“The Chicago Cubs — one of the most-celebrated and oldest brands in all of baseball made the decision to come here rather than going anywhere else.”
Renowned third-generation Chicago White Sox groundskeeper Roger Bossard was brought in to install the field surface and a performance center modeled on the one used by the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., was built at Four Winds Field.
The 1st Source Bank Performance Center is used not only by the pros but by the community.
The stadium is also ringed by four apartment buildings – The Ivy at Berlin Place. It is currently 98 percent occupied with two commercial spaces — one 6,000-square feet and one 4,000-square feet available for lease.
In 2021 — with the restructuring of Minor League Baseball under the oversight of Major League Baseball Player Development Contracts were moved from two- or four-year arrangements to 10. South Bend is in the High-A Central League.
The South Bend Cubs’ lease with the city has 20 more years on it.
After having no games in 2020, South Bend drew 217,066 in 2021. In 2019, that number was 319,616.
The Indiana General Assembly passed the Professional Sports Development Act, which benefits the baseball team and other downtown places and businesses.
“Taxes collected in this area – rather than going down to Indianapolis — can stay here in South Bend and can help pay for some of the renovations for Four Winds Field without increasing taxes across the board. In fact, the PSDA wouldn’t even exist if the South Bend Cubs weren’t here.
Berlin notes that the expansion will help the team better cater its fans food and drink needs.
“Currently we are able to feed everyone in the ballpark with just one small kitchen,” said Berlin. “We’ve been able to make do with this, but in increasing crowds and increasing capacity we’ll have to add more back-of-the-house improvements like kitchens and storage.”
Berlin said light construction will begin before 2023 and then building in-earnest will happen after the 2023 season. In the past, smaller projects have been accomplished during the fall and winter months.
Berlin said he is hopeful that current supply chain and transportation issues that can affect construction will smooth out.
“Since we’re not going to be breaking ground for a little while, I have to think that there will be stabilization of the cost of those materials over time,” said Berlin.
What will the new capacity be?
“I hesitate to give you a percentage of increase, but it will be substantial,” said Berlin. “Of the 70 (home) games were have in the season right now, we’re selling out around 55 to 60 games a season.”
Those numbers are dependent largely upon whether and students being in or out of school for the summer.
Going back to 2011, Berlin was not sure he wanted to buy the South Bend team. He was convinced by Kernan and set about putting together his off-the-field team.
“Joe convinced me that this was a diamond in the rough and so we went forward,” said Berlin. “Once I was in, I was all-in. I learned in hard because I wasn’t going to get into a business and not try to be successful.
“And so I brought all the resources I could possibly muster. I was able to recruit some really amazing talent.”
Ever the optimist, Berlin sees his place in the community as a facilitator of memories.
Married with five children and living in the Chicago area, Berlin tries to spend at least one game per homestand in South Bend. Sometimes when his family is with him and the crowds have gone home, the family has a pick-up game under the Four Winds Field lights.

Andrew T. Berlin. (Steve Krah Video)
Andrew T. Berlin.

Broadcaster Monaco to make first MLB call for ESPN

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

Mike Monaco, who began his professional baseball broadcast career with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2015, is scheduled to be the play-by-plan man for his first ESPN-produced Major League Baseball broadcast.
Monaco, a 2015 University of Notre Dame graduate in Film, Television and Theatre with concentration in TV, is to pair up with Doug Glanville and Tim Kurkjian on the San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks game at 9:40 p.m. EST on Thursday, July 1.
It will be Monaco’s first game working with veterans Glanville and Kurkjian.
“With those guys as accomplished as they are, it will be my job to feed off them,” says Monaco. “They’re the real stars of the show.
“I think the world of them as baseball minds and broadcasters.”
Working remotely from his Chicago home studio, Monaco will tell the audience what is happening for Giants-Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
“It’s very different. That’s for sure,” says Monaco of not being on-site. “It’s a credit to ESPN that they’ve built this model. It’s amazing to see how they’re able to pull this off on such a large scale.”
Monaco and his partners will have access to multiple camera angles and a statistician and work with a production crew.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Monaco had experience calling baseball remotely from the Big Ten Network offices in Chicago.
“It’s not as much of a culture shock for me,” says Monaco, who has trained himself to watch various monitors to convey the action.
The example he likes to cite is a ball hit into the right-center gap with a runner at second base.
“The camera might be showing you the ball landing in the outfield,” says Monaco. “You train our eyes to find another camera that might be showing you the runner.”
There’s also the judging fly balls off the bat, which is a skill even for in-person broadcasters.
“It’s the more reps you do the more familiarized your mind and your eyes get,” says Monaco.
While calling baseball or other sports, Monaco reminds himself that he is part of a team of commentators, graphics people etc., and that fans can see what’s happening on their sets and devices.
“It’s on us to accentuate, inform and entertain,” says Monaco. “In radio, you have to describe every pitch and every swing. You paint a picture.
“In baseball, you have time to break down swings and pitch sequences and tell stories. We make you care about a guy you’ve never heard of before, the stakes of a live competition and why the participants care so much and why the fans at home care so much.”
Hired by ESPN in November 2019, Monaco has called college basketball and college baseball the most for the network with some lacrosse, volleyball and football.
At the end of 2019, he filled in on New England Sports Network (NESN) for Boston Red Sox TV broadcasts, working with Jerry Remy and Baseball Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. He is scheduled to be pair with Ellis Burks for road series July 2-4 against the Oakland Athletics and July 5-7 against the Los Angeles Angels.
“Growing up a Red Sox fan it’s been special to be a small part of that operation,” says Monaco, who once dressed up for Halloween as Nomar Garciaparra, counts Jason Varitek as his first autograph and graduated from Cohasset (Mass.) High School in 2011. “It’s an honor to fill the chair of (lead play-by-play man) Dave O’Brien.”
Having watched and listened to Remy and Eckersley, Monaco came to appreciate their blending of hitting and pitching knowledge. He even knows the language of Eck.
“Cheese” is an excellent fastball.
“Educated cheese” is a well-located fastball.
“Hair” is a fastball with late movement.
“Moss” is what grows on a person’s head.
“Salad” is stuff thrown by a finesse pitcher.
“Going Bridge” is a home run.
“Johnson” is an important home run.
“I laugh as hard as anyone,” says Monaco of Eckisms.
Monaco called Cape Cod Baseball League games in the summer of 2013 and 2014.
He is grateful for the opportunity he had with the 2015 South Bend Cubs, where he worked with Chris Hagstrom-Jones.
In 2016, he was on the air for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps where his regular partner was Mike Maahs and counts Broadcasting & Media Relations Manager John Nolan, Team President Mike Nutter and Vice President of Marketing & Promotions Michael Limmer among friends in baseball.
Monaco did play-by play for Western Michigan University men’s and women’s basketball in 2015-16.
His first BTN games came in the winter of 2017-18 and he moved to Chicago more than three years ago. He broadcast for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox for three seasons.
Monaco’s resume also includes productions for the ACC Network and FOX Sports.

Mike Monaco

Big Head Sports’ Miranda puts love into every glove

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A baseball or softball glove is like a person.

Both need TLC.

A person who provides tender loving care to those fly catchers and grounder grabbers is Joey Miranda. 

He taught himself how to repair his own glove as a ballplayer and he’s been doing it for others as owner of Big Head Sports. His repeat customers include the South Bend Cubs, Notre Dame, Bethel University, Indiana University South Bend and several travel organizations.

“I really enjoy doing glove work. I really do,” says Miranda, an Osceola, Ind., resident. “It keeps me around baseball.”

Miranda, 51, grew up in Woodland, Calif., near Sacramento and went to Oakland A’s game with father Joe Sr., and San Diego Padres with his grandfather (Luis and grandmother Eva lived in Tijuana and had Joey visit each August after his baseball season) and uncle and played lots of ball while tending to his glove and those of his ball-playing buddies.

“I got really good at it,” says Miranda, who moved to northern Indiana in 2008. 

Over the years, he did research and learned how to break in gloves — what to do and not to do.

Miranda says a glove should not be put in the oven, microwave or steamer.

“It causes cracking,” says Miranda. It will also void the warranty at some sporting goods retailers. “Conditioner soothes the outside of the glove and puts moisture back into glove.”

Proper care will also extend the life of the glove.

“It won’t last as long if you don’t clean it with conditioner,” says Miranda. “I used to to use mink or Neatsfoot oil, but I’ve gotten away from that.

“If you use too much it will make the glove heavy. (Oil) doesn’t dissipate.”

Miranda, who sells new and used gloves, gives maintenance information.

“I recommend conditioning twice a year — the middle of the season and the end to protect the glove over the winter,” says Miranda. “I really like it when parents bring their athlete with them. I can inform the player on how to take care of their glove.

“At $200-$400, that’s a little bit of an investment for the parents.”

High-end gloves can have map or steer or some other kind of leather while low end ones are made of average hyde.

Miranda invites customers to shoot him a text and he will walk them through any questions they might have.

“It’s about my customers,” says Miranda. “It’s like an honor for me working on their glove.

“I have some really loyal customers that only come to me.”

Joey and Rebecca Miranda had four children. The oldest — Casey — died a few years ago. Then there’s sons Andrew and Anthony and daughter Jordan. The boys all played baseball.

When Anthony was at what is now Harris Baseball/Softball in Granger, Ind., and his glove broke his father informed him that he could fix it. The laces were swept out for white ones and it was a real attention-getter.

The next thing you know other players and parents are coming to Miranda for his glove TLC.

He started buying lace from a local man and word of his work began spreading like wildfire.

Then came Big Head Sports. The name comes from the inflated egos Miranda saw while he was a player.

“I grew up with guys who were supposed to get drafted and didn’t,” says Miranda. 

Best friend Jeff Moore is a graphic designer in California and crafted Miranda’s logo. The business motto is “Don’t let your head get bigger than the game.”

“That’s what keeps me humble in what I’m doing. I have yet to advertise other than on Facebook (or Twitter). I get new people every year by word of mouth. That feels good.

“I treat each glove as if it was my own. That’s my work that I’m putting out there.”

Joey and Rebecca have talked about one day opening a store and have been collecting old gloves and baseball memorabilia for decor.

Miranda backs up his work. He will replace materials up to four months and offers free glove-tightening.

A relationship with former South Bend Silver Hawks manager and current general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and head of the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel baseball organization Mark Haley got Miranda in with the South Bend Cubs.

Miranda’s turnaround time is often a few days depending on his schedule. Miranda is a material handler at RC Industries in Elkhart and coaches a Hitters Edge 14U travel team.

Sometimes a glove emergency arises. Like this spring when there was a blowout of Notre Dame senior and Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft prospect Niko Kavadas’ first baseman’s mitt during pregame of a game at Frank Eck stadium.

Miranda, who often took glove-related calls from Irish assistant coach Rich Wallace, got a call from the ND staff and he was off to the ballpark — about 10 miles away.

Miranda knew Kavadas from the player’s time at Penn High School and training with Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich., and had done a small repair on the same beloved glove.

“Niko is pretty superstitious,” says Miranda.

When Joey saw the mitt this time it had zip ties holding it together. Miranda feverishly did his thing and got it to Kavadas in the nick of time.

“I got the glove done as lineups being announced,” says Miranda.

Many folks will use bunny cords or rubber bands when breaking in a glove. Miranda discourages this because it can cause the glove to flex where the cord or band is placed. 

With his wife’s permission, he uses old dish towels and puts a ball in the glove pocket where his has been pounding it with a 5-pound weight or glove mallet.

“There’s no flex point and you’re covering a wide area,” says Miranda. “You want to make the pocket round. 

“The ball is round — not flat or taco-shaped.”

Miranda recommends catching balls off a pitching machine as part of the break-in process.

“You need to get use to the glove,” says Miranda. “A lot of it is feel.

“Also— old or new — you should be squeezing all the time.”

Many players look for the glove to do all the work.

It’s just part of fundamentals — the kind that Miranda teaches as a coach with his travel team or as an assistant to Lawrence “Buster” Hammond at South Bend Washington High School (the Panthers did not field a team this spring because of low participation numbers).

Miranda has been coaching baseball for more than two decades.

“I love coaching because it’s about the kids,” says Miranda. “You make a difference in a young man’s life.

“I’ve been clean and sober for 24 years. That’s my way of giving back.”

To contact Miranda, call 574-855-6332 or email bigheadsports28@gmail.com.

Joey Miranda (left) of Big Head Sports and Eloy Jimenez when the ballplayer was with the South Bend Cubs.
The motto of Big Head Sports — a glove care and re-lacing business owned by Joey Miranda of Osceola, Ind.

Ganger getting broadcast reps at Ball State and beyond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Just like batters crave their cuts, broadcasters need their reps.

Nathan Ganger started getting his in high school and continues to hone his craft in college.

Once bitten by the sports play-by-play bug, he began talking into a tape recorder during Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy basketball games. 

The Michigan resident attended ECA all four years of high school.

“I absolutely loved it there,” says Ganger. “It was the perfect size for me.

“You get to know everybody in your class.”

Ganger attended the Elkhart Area Career Center as a junior (2017-18) and senior (2018-19) where Audio/Video Production instructor Warren Seegers taught camera operation and concepts like the “rule of thirds” and helped Ganger build the skills that allowed him to tell sports stories on WVPE HD3 88.1 FM and conduct interviews on Facebook Live.

“Mr. Seegers is awesome,” says Ganger. “Everything I learned over my two years I’m using now.”

Ganger got to interview South Bend (Ind.) Cubs President Joe Hart and Notre Dame men’s basketball associate head coach Rod Balanis.

He counts his Q&A with ND women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw after the 2018 national championship as a career highlight.

Before the interview began, McGraw was kind of standoffish and giving one-word answers. Then she began to respond to Ganger’s thoughtful questions.

“She realized I did my research,” says Ganger.

In two seasons working with the South Bend Cubs, Ganger was supervised by Chris Hagerstrom-Jones, who is now Assistant General Manager for Marketing and Media.

“I started as camera operator then I told my boss I wanted to get into broadcasting and learn everything,” says Ganger, who got to host the on-field pregame show, work with replay on TV broadcasts and occasionally operate the Four Winds Field video board.

“It was fun getting to learn all different sides of the industry,” says Ganger. “I want to be not just a broadcaster, but be as well-rounded as I possibly can.

“You can’t always rely on other people. You need to know how to do everything yourself.”

Ganger is now a second-year Telecommunications major at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. He’s on a path to graduate in the Spring of 2023.

In 2020-21, Ganger has done play-by-play or color commentary for Cardinals baseball, football, basketball and volleyball while also helping to create social media video content for Ball State Sports Link.

For his first Ball State Sports Link broadcast, Ganger was on the call for BSU’s football opener at Miami in Oxford, Ohio. With COVID-19 restrictions, it was a remote production. A monitor showed him the action which he conveyed to his audience.

“It was definitely different,” says Ganger. “Numbers on the screen is different than being at the game.

“I can’t be picky. Any opportunity I have to go for it.”

Ganger can’t say enough good things about Sports Link.

“It’s the best of the best for sports media anywhere,” says Ganger. “(Senior Director of Sports Production and Lecturer) Chris Taylor does literally anything he can to get us this opportunity.”

Ganger teamed in the booth with Ryan Klimcak (who shared Northwoods League TV Announcer of the Year honors in 2020 while working for the Bismarck Larks) on last weekend’s baseball Mid-American Conference homestand and got to call a walk-off win against Western Michigan.

According to Ganger, keys for a good broadcast include knowing the players’ names.

“Memorize those the best you can,” says Ganger. “In basketball — when they’re running up and down the court — you have time to look down at your score chart.”

For a radio game, Ganger is sure to give time and score every 90 seconds.

“You have to be the listeners’ eyes,” says Ganger. “You want to have descriptive words for everything.”

It’s important to pinpoint the ball and it’s trajectory. The broadcaster tells his audience where it was hit and if it’s a line drive or a slow roller. 

“We also build story lines,” says Ganger. “Why is this game important? What’s at stake? Throughout the game we recap what’s happened.”

The voice is to be used as an instrument.

“Be creative with ways to say things with voice inflection,” says Ganger. “You need a balance between sounding excited and not yelling all the time.

“I’m still learning. You can never be too good at broadcasting. It’s very competitive. You have to find ways to set yourself apart.”

Ganger used COVID quarantine time last summer to get in the reps that would help prepare for Sports Link broadcasts and to land an internship for the summer of 2021.

“I didn’t want to sit around,” says Ganger, who took old tapes of football, basketball and baseball games which he described by himself or with a friend and posted on YouTube. “I wanted to get better and be ready for games at Ball State and I wanted to get that internship.”

Ganger got it.

During the process of searching and interviewing, he encountered the Expedition League. It’s a 12-team summer collegiate circuit that plays a 64-game schedule beginning in late May.

It came down to choosing between the Mining City Tommyknockers (Butte, Mont.) and Sioux Falls (S.D.) Sunfish. Ganger chose the expansion Tommyknockers.

“I felt comfortable with (Mining City GM/Co-Owner) Dane Wagner,” says Ganger. “He showed a lot of interest in me from the day he contacted me. 

“He felt me feel wanted. The Expedition League makes a point of taking care of their interns.”

Southern Illinois University student Tyler King will be Ganger’s broadcast partner and the the two have been corresponding to get to know one another.

“It’s been cool for Tyler and I to be he first-ever voices of the team,” says Ganger.

Not only will the duo get to enjoy the first with a team playing at 3 Legends Stadium (a facility that debuted in 2017 which has gone from a capacity of 470 to 1,300), Ganger and King will get to know a wide swath of territory. 

Besides Mining City, the Lewis Division features the Badlands Big Sticks (Dickinson, N.D.), Canyon County (Idaho) Spuds, Casper (Wyoming) Horseheads, Souris Valley Sabre Dogs (Minot, N.D.) and Wheat City Whiskey Jacks (Brandon, Manitoba, Canada) with the Clark Division sporting the Fremont (Neb.) Moo, Hastings (Neb.) Sodbusters, Pierre (S.D.) Trappers, Sioux Falls Sunfish, Spearfish (S.D.) Sasquatch and Western Nebraska Pioneers (Gering, Neb.).

Nathan Ganger with the South Bend Cubs (South Bend Cubs Photo)
Nathan Ganger with the Mid-American Conference football championship trophy earned in 2020 by Ball State football. (Ball State Sports Link Photo)
Nathan Ganger (right) calls many contests for Ball State Sports Link, including volleyball. (Ball State Sports Link Photo)
Ball State University Telecommunications major Nathan Ganger calls several contests for Ball State Sports Link. Among his spring assignments has been BSU baseball. He has an internship this summer with the Mining City Tommyknockers college team in Butte, Mont. (Ball State Sports Link Photo)

Notre Dame assistant Wingo very familiar with winning

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

University of Notre Dame volunteer assistant Scott Wingo has experienced plenty of winning as a baseball player and coach.

Wingo graduated in 2007 from Mauldin High School, a program in Greenville, S.C., that produced a AAAA state champion in 2004 and saw Wingo earn AAAA All-State and South Carolina/North Carolina All-Star Select honors in 2007.

In four seasons at the University of South Carolina, the Gamecocks went a combined 189-76 with an NCAA regional appearance in 2008 and College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011, going a combined 11-1 in Omaha, Neb., with Ray Tanner as head coach. 

Coach Tanner and I had a special relationship,” says Wingo, 31. “He was going to do everything in his power to get you to believe in our system. We’re here to win. He didn’t like to lose.

“Losing wasn’t OK.”

Lefty swinger Wingo played in 254 games for South Carolina and hit .264 (189-of-717) with 24 home runs, six triples, 24 doubles, 96 runs batted in, 159 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.

As a freshman in 2008, second baseman Wingo was in a starting infield with first baseman Justin Smoak, shortstop Reese Havens and third baseman James Darnell.

“Those were big, strong guys,” says Wingo, who was 5-foot-9 and about 145 pounds as a college frosh. “I knew I needed to work really hard in the weight room.

“Coach (Tanner) always kept you accountable,” says Wingo, who was 5-10 and 175 as a senior. “He always would keep me on track. He knew he could be tough on me. 

“He knew I could take it.”

Wingo scored the title-winning run in 2010 against UCLA on an 11th-inning single from Whit Merrifield and was named CWS Outstanding Player in 2011 (the Gamecocks beat Florida for the championship).

“When I think about 2011, I can’t help but think about 2010,” says Wingo, who suffered a squad injury and went undrafted after his junior season. “I didn’t have that great of a tournament.

“My senior year is where I took off. I wanted to end my (college) career on a bang. I was locked in.

“We were ready for that (2011) tournament. We believed we were going to win it. 

“We were the defending champions. You’re going to have to knock us out to take this from us.”

Tanner insisted his Gamecocks do things the right way.

“If you don’t have good grades, you’re not going to play,” says Wingo. “We had high-character guys like Jackie Bradley Jr., and Whit Merrifield. When your best players are good people it resonates with the entire team.

“We had a bunch of guys that would battle you. They were tough outs and played really good defense. On the mound, they were lights out. We typically never beat ourselves.”

Selected in the 11th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wingo played 261 games in the Dodgers system 2011-14.

He was with the short-season Ogden (Utah) Raptors when they went 41-35 and lost in the Pioneer League finals in 2011.

In 2012 and 2013, Wingo played for the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, a franchise that combined for 133 wins and lost in the first round of the 2013 California League playoffs.

Among Wingo’s teammates in the Dodgers chain were future big leaguers Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Corey Seager, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, A.J. Ellis, Scott Van Slyke and Jerry Hairston.

Beginning his coaching career as a student assistant at South Carolina in 2015, Wingo saw the Gamecocks go 32-25.

In his two seasons on the North Greenville (S.C.) University staff (2016 and 2017), the Crusaders went a combined 73-31. 

The NGU staff was led by head coach Landon Powell, who was the catcher for Dallas Braden’s perfect game with the Oakland Athletics in 2010. Assistants included former South Carolina and big league pitcher Jon Coutlangus and former College of Charleston player Tyler Jackson.

Wingo had earned a Retail Management degree at South Carolina and picked up a masters in Education at North Greenville

Wingo was an assistant for the Coastal Plain League’s Wilmington (N.C.) Sharks in the summer of 2015 and was the collegiate team’s manager in 2016 and 2017. Those three years, the Sharks went 92-70, including 6-6 in the playoffs.

Alec Bohm, who was a rookie with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020, played for the team in 2016 and won the home run derby at the CPL All-Star Game with Wingo pitching to him. Wingo says he hopes to do that same if Bohm ever gets invited to the MLB home run derby.

With Wingo assisted at Jacksonville (Fla.) University in 2018, the Dolphins went 40-21 under head coach Chris Hayes

“He knows a lot about the game and is very passionate,” says Wingo of Hayes. “He connected with his players and knew how to push the right buttons. 

“He really helps me.”

At Jacksonville is where Wingo learned how to tend to an infield.

With the blazing Florida sun baking the playing surface, it was not unusual to have to keep the hose going.

“Sometimes had to water that field three or four times a day,” says Wingo. “You’ve got to soak it.”

At Jacksonville, Rich Wallace was the recruiting coordinator and he moved to Notre Dame to take the same position.

Wingo was with the Irish in 2020 when they went 11-2 in a COVID-19-shortened season. It was the first spring under the Golden Dome for head coach Link Jarrett.

“It’s been awesome to work under Link,” says Wingo. “He’s got a great feel for the game and players.

“It’s a great opportunity to come coach at Notre Dame.”

Wing helps with infielders and hitters as well as outfielders.

“(With outfielders), the first step has got to be your best step,” says Wingo. “You go get the ball when it’s in the air. We call them ‘bird dogs.’ 

“There is no fear.”

Notre Dame concluded fall practice two weeks ago. Student-athletes are not due back on-campus until January.

Before they left, players went through exit interviews with the coaching staff to go over grades, how the fall went and areas where they can improve. Hitters talked about their swing and their approach.

They were given conditioning and performance drills to keep them right during the extended break.

“How we prepare for these next two months in vital,” says Wingo. “We’re excited about the spring.”

Wingo has been teaching lessons at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field, a facility in downtown South Bend where Mark Haley is the director.

There are camps most Saturday mornings with instruction in fielding, hitting and throwing.

“We’re breaking down the mechanics,” says Wingo. “Doing things the right way at this early age is vital. When strength and power comes in when they develop into great baseball players.

“We’re building brick by brick. Hopefully every week they get a little better. When they see progress their eyes light up and that smile, you can’t get it off their face. 

“It’s pretty cool.”

Wingo is also leading practices twice a week for 14U South Bend Cubs travel team he will coach in the summer of 2021.

Scott is the son of Bill and Nancy Wingo. Bill Wingo is a member of the Clemson University Athletic Hall of Fame. He lettered in baseball and football for four years. He started on College World Series teams in 1976 and 1977, making just three errors at second base in ’77. He played briefly in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Scott Wingo is the 2011 College World Series Outstanding Player. (The Big Spur Video)
Scott Wingo is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame. The 2020 season was his first. He played four seasons at the University of South Carolina, winning College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

Rebound season cut short for USC lefty Gursky

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Gursky’s bounce-back baseball season was getting rave reviews when the curtain came down much sooner than expected.

A left-handed pitcher at the University of Southern California, the Indiana native started against visiting Xavier University on Wednesday, March 11.

Gursky recalls the unusual atmosphere when he took the mound at Dedeaux Field.

“Only essential personnel were allowed in the stands,” says Gursky. “It was like a travel ball game. Only parents were there.”

Gursky tossed the first two innings, facing eight batters with three strikeouts and yielding one hit as the first of seven USC pitchers.

“The next day I wake up and my phone is blowing up,” says Gursky of what turned out to be a COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. 

Thinking the situation would blow over, he spent about a week at his uncle’s house in Orange County then came home to Granger, Ind.

“I had not been in Indiana in March in years,” says Gursky. “We were having a great start to the year then comes the sad news. We worked so hard in the fall.”

The Trojans were 10-5 when the 2020 slate was halted. Southpaw Gursky was 1-1 in four appearances (three starts) with a 0.00 earned run average. He fanned 12 and walked three in 12 innings. Opponents hit .105 against him. On March 3, he pitched the first six innings against UC Irvine and held the Anteaters hitless with seven strikeouts.

USC coaches talked about placing Gursky in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer. But that league canceled its season and with all the uncertainty, Gursky opted to take 15 weeks away from throwing and reported to USC this fall fully-refreshed. 

An online accounting class taken this summer will help Gursky on his path to graduating with a Business Administration degree next spring.

Gursky played three seasons for head coach John Gumpf at South Bend St. Joseph High School (2014-16).

“That was a fun time,” says Gursky of his days with the Indians. “I have a lot of great teammates.”

Some of Gursky’s pals were Danny Torres, Tony Carmola, J.R. Haley and Carlos Matovina.

In his senior year (2017), Gursky played for former major leaguer Chris Sabo at a IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Gursky enjoyed a solid inaugral campaign at USC in 2018, but struggled in 2019.

“I had a good freshmen year and a disaster of a sophomore year,” says Gursky. “I was in a bad place.”

Playing for then-Trojans head coach Dan Hubbs, Gursky made 22 appearances (two starts) as a freshman, going 3-1 with a 4.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings.

His second college appearance was at Cal State Long Beach’s Blair Field, where played for the Brewers in the 2015 underclass Area Code Games and was named to the upperclass game in 2016 but did not play because of a forearm injury.

As a sophomore, Gursky got into 12 games (five starts) and was 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA. He struck out 18 in 22 innings.

“I thank (Hubbs) so much for getting to come to the school of my choice,” says Gursky.

In the summer of 2019, the lefty played for the Newport (R.I.) Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where Kevin Winterrowd was the manager and pitching coach.

“I was kind of inconsistent,” says Gursky. “I working on stuff at the same time I was competing and trying to win games.

“But that was a the beginning of the turnaround. It set up a good fall and spring.”

Back in Los Angeles, Gursky had a new head coach (Jason Gill) and pitching coach (Ted Silva) in the fall of 2019.

“(Gill) has continuous energy,” says Gursky. “We all love playing for him. We feed off that energy.

“(Silva) helped me out. He saw something in me. He’s straight forward like Sabo.”

Gursky appreciates the approach of Sabo, the former Cincinnati Reds third baseman and current University of Akron head coach.

“He never sugar coated anything,” says Gursky. “He was a great guy to talk with in general.”

Another ex-big leaguer — Steve Frey — was the IMG Academy pitching coach.

“He was great communicator,” says Gursky of Frey. “We connected very well. 

“We’re both lefties  so we felt the same way.”

Back in northern Indiana, Gursky has gotten pitching pointers from Curt Hasler, who pitched for the 1988 South Bend White Sox and is now the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. Son Drew Hasler has pitched in the White Sox system.

“He’s great with the mental game,” says Gursky of Curt Hasler. “I like that he’s been around guys who’ve pitched at the highest level possible.”

A 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who played basketball through his freshmen year at St. Joseph describes his aggressive athletic mindset.

“I’m an attacker,” says Gursky. “Either I’m attacking the basket or attacking the strike zone.”

Delivering the baseball with a three quarter-plus arm slot, Gursky throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.

His four-seamer has a high spin rate and occasionally touched 94 mph in the spring.

His two-seamer sinks and run and was usually 88 to 91 mph.

“My change-up is very slow,” says Gursky of a pitch clocked at 76 to 78 mph. “It’s been my main strikeout pitch the last two years. 

“I grip it petty deep and pretty hard. It’s not in my palm.”

His sweeping curve comes in 79 to 82 mph and breaks left to right — away from left-handed batters and into righties.

Born in Bloomington, Ind., Gursky moved to Granger at 5 and attended Saint Pius X Catholic School. His first baseball experience came at 10 or 11 at Harris Township Cal Ripken.

He played for Rob Coffel with the Michiana Scrappers at 12U and for Ray Torres (father of Danny) with the South Bend Rays at 13U.

After that, Gursky was with a number of travel teams around the country.  Locally, he did a couple stints with the South Bend Cubs and manager Mark Haley (father of J.R.). 

“He knows the bigger picture,” says Gursky of Mark Haley, who played at the University of Nebraska, coached at the University of Tennessee and was a manager in professional baseball for 12 years, including 10 with the South Bend Silver Hawks (2005-14) before becoming general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation. “He’s big on development.”

Gursky’s grandfather, Will Perry, was a pitcher at the University of Michigan. A broken leg suffered in a car accident kept him from a starting role with the 1953 national champions. He was later sports information director and assistant athletic director for the Wolverines.

Uncle Steve Perry played baseball at Michigan and was selected in the first round of the 1979 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-5 right-hander advanced to Triple-A in 1983 and 1984.

“He taught things when I was younger,” says Gursky. “Now I get what he was saying.

“When you have a growth mentality, you take what other people are saying and apply it to yourself.”

Perry was one of three first-round draft picks for Michigan in 1979. Outfielder/first baseman Rick Leach and left-handed pitcher Steve Howe both went on to play in the majors. 

University of Notre Dame employees Matt and Susan Gursky have three children — Elena (24), Brian (22) and Natalie (18). Westland, Mich., native Matt Gursky is a mathematics professor. Ann Arbor, Mich., native Susan Gursky is a pre-medicine advisor. Elena Gursky played softball at St. Joe. Natalie Gursky is an equestrian.

Brian Gursky pitches for the University of Southern California.
Brian Gursky, an Indiana native who played high school baseball at South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph High School and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., has pitched for three seasons at the University of Southern California. (USC Photo)

Even without minor league season, Roncalli, Louisville grad McAvene keeps on pitching

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael McAvene is doing his best to keep the momentum rolling in his baseball career.

The right-handed pitcher had to push the pause button during his high school and college days because of injury and now he’s at a standstill period as a professional because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down Minor League Baseball in 2020.

McAvene is a 2016 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, playing for three head coaches. He made a few varsity appearances as a freshman for Keith Hatfield in 2013, even more as a sophomore for Daron Spink in 2014, missed his junior season with the Rebels with elbow issues in 2015 and was part of an IHSAA Class 4A state championship team as a senior for Aaron Kroll in 2016.

As a University of Louisville freshman in the spring of 2017, McAvene was hurt in an April relief stint and soon found himself on the operating table. His next pitch in a collegiate game came April 2018.

After getting into seven games (five as a starter) and going 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 17 1/3 innings as a U of L freshman, McAvene went to the bullpen when he came back from his surgery.

The righty made 34 appearances out of the bullpen his last two collegiate seasons, going 2-1 with nine saves, a 3.32 earned run average, 65 strikeouts and 18 walks in 43 1/3 innings. He was named second team all-Atlantic Coast Conference in 2019.

The Cardinals qualified for the NCAA Tournament 2017-19 and went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019

U of L was ranked No. 1 in the nation during part of that stretch and McAvene was labeled as the team’s closer during the end of that run.

“I loved it,” says McAvene. “You have to have a certain mentality for (that role).

“It came easy for me to get the last out of the game, which in my opinion is the last out to get.”

It was while going for that last out that McAvene received an automative four-game suspension following his ejection for disputing an umpire’s decision in NCAA regional victory over Indiana University.

He counts it as part of his experience. 

“I definitely didn’t want to talk about it (immediately after the game),” says McAvene. “But you’ve got to be professional and not let emotions get in the way.”

McAvene cherished the atmosphere created at Louisville by head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) gets you to the point where you’d run through a wall for him and your teammates,” says McAvene. “That’s the culture.

“It’s a testament to the players and the type of people he brings in.”

Williams pushed his pitchers.

“He taught me what it takes to be successful at this level,” says McAvene of Williams. “He’s a very challenging guy. He expects us to be on top of our games at all times. He won’t accept less. He made us accountable.

“When it’s your time, you’re all that’s out there. You have to execute and do all you can to get your team to win.”

McAvene says Williams is one of the best game callers in the country and his scouting reports are second to none.

“(McDonnell and Williams are) two of the most legendary coaches in the history of college baseball and they’re just starting,” says McAvene, who was selected in the third round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs

Appearing in six games with the 2019 Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, he went 0-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 20 strikeouts and four walks in 12 2/3 innings. Of 199 pitches, 126 were thrown for strikes.

The way the organization is currently formed, the next step on the ladder would be with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs.

McAvene faced some hitters before spring training and he’s since had some competitive bullpen sessions while following the program laid out by the Cubs. He just hasn’t delivered a pitch in a game since Aug. 31, 2019.

“I have a pretty good player plan sent out by the Cubs,” says McAvene. “I just can’t replicate in-game reps.”

While some of his former Louisville teammates have been involved in the four-team Battle of the Bourbon Trail independent league in Florence and Lexington, McAvene has stayed in central Indiana to train.

The McAvenes family — Rob, Jennifer, Michael and Bradley — lived for years near Camby, near Mooresville, and now reside in Danville.

It’s about a 10-minute trip to Plainfield to work out at the home of his former Ben Davis Little League and Indiana Outlaws travel coach, Jay Hundley, along with pros Jacson McGowan (who played at Brownsburg High School and Purdue University and is now in the Tampa Bay Rays system) and Nick Schnell (who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Roncalli in 2018 and is also with the Rays), Indiana University left-hander Zach Behrmann (Indianapolis North Central graduate) and others. 

McAvene was able to retire most high school hitters with a fastball and a breaking ball. 

While starting at Louisville, he began to get a feel for a change-up. When he went to the back of the Cards’ pen, he used a fastball, slider and curveball and, essentially, shelved the change-up on the shelf.

Given a chance to return to starting with the Cubs, McAvene again began working to get comfortable with throwing a “circle” change — a grip taught to him by a friend while he was with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer of 2018.

“I knew my curveball and my slider were only going to get me so far,” says McAvene. “The change-up sets apart good players from great players.”

Throwing from a low three-quarter arm angle, McAvene throws more two-seam fastballs than four-seamers.

“It has a sinker action,” says McAvene of the two-seamer that registers as a sinker on Cubs’ analytic equipment like Rapsodo and TrackMan. “My arm slot allows for a lot of downward action on it.

“I wanted to make sure I’ve got some lateral movement on it. The sink is an added bonus.”

McAvene’s curve has morphed. He used to throw the pitch in the traditional manner with a sweeping motion. 

“I switched the grip to a knuckle curve to get more depth,” says McAvene. “It pairs well with my fastball and slider.”

As for the slider, McAvene was throwing it at Eugene at 86 to 90 mph.

“It has a very hard and tight break,” says McAvene of the slider. “The movement is late and right at the very end.”

After the 2019 season, McAvene finished his Sports Administration degree, graduating magna cum laude in December.

McAvene, who turned 23 on Aug. 24, says he was hopeful that there might be fall instructional league with the Cubs this year. But since it’s already September and Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are still figuring out the terms of their agreement, that looks improbable.

Born in the same Indianapolis hospital where his mother has spent 30 years as an ICU nurse (IU Health University), McAvene grew up in the Mooresville area. He was an Mooresville Little League all-star from 9 to 11 — the last two with his father as coach (Rob McAvene is now an independent distributor for Pepperidge Farms) — before his one year at Ben Davis Little League. 

Before attending Roncalli, Michael spent Grades K-6 at North Madison Elementary in Camby and middle school at Saint Mark Catholic School on the south side of Indianapolis.

Bradley McAvene (18) is a 2020 graduate of Indiana Connections Academy.

Michael McAvene pitched for the University of Louisville. (Prospects Live Video)
Michael McAvene is a 2016 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where he helped the Rebels win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a senior.
Michael McAvene pitched at the University of Louisville 2017-19. He was the Cardinals closer at the end of that stretch. Louisville went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019. (University of Louisville Photo)
Michael McAvene, a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and the University of Louisville, was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and pitched for the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds in 2019. (Photo by Aussiedi Photography)

Tirotta stays close to home while gearing up for final season with Dayton Flyers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Riley Tirotta is enjoying baseball and family life this summer.

Coming off an abbreviated junior season at the University of Dayton in Ohio because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tirotta spent the first month of quarantine at home in South Bend, Ind., and about a week in Bryan, Texas, where he participated in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational.

A 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty swinger who has started 109 games at Dayton (including 97 at third base the past two seasons with starts at designated hitter, right field, first base and second base as a freshmen in 2018), Tirotta did not get selected in the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Citing unfinished business, he decided not to sign a free agent contact with an MLB organization and he’s planning to come back for his senior season in 2021.

“We had a really good team at Dayton this year,” says Tirotta. “We can do a lot of special things. We have a lot of seniors returning. If I do some things individually and we win some games, I can put myself in an even better position (for professional baseball). 

“We want to finish what we started.”

As a sophomore, Tirotta led Dayton in hits (59), at-bats (227) and stolen bases (18 in 20 attempts) and tied for the team lead in RBIs (41). He enjoyed 16 multi-hit games. 

His freshmen year yielded 27 hits and seven stolen bases while he fielded at a .987 clip.

A past honoree on the dean’s and Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner’s academic lists, Tirotta is on track to earned his Finance degree at Dayton.

At the CSBI, Tirotta played on a team managed by former big league pitcher, Gary, Ind., native and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins and got to face former high school teammate Nate Thomas and college mate Cole Pletka.

Before joining the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park this week, Tirotta spent about 10 days training at Prospect Performance Academy in Aurora, Ohio — near Cleveland and Akron.

Tirotta has worked for more than a year with agent and PPA founder/owner Ben Simon.

“He’s helping me get ready for pro ball and reaching out to scouts,” says Tirotta of Simon. “We’re pretty good friends.”

The CSL plays its games on Monday and Tuesday (11 a.m. doubleheaders). Tirotta spends the rest of the time in South Bend, where he works out at the O’Brien Fitness Center and the 1st Source Bank Performance Center (home of the South Bend Cubs), where Mark Haley is the director.

Following workouts prescribed by trainers, including those at Dayton, Tirotta hits the gym five or six times a week. He goes through strength and conditioning moves and does sprint training.

“I use my speed as well as my power,” says Tirotta. “Just being at athlete on the baseball field is one of my biggest strengths.

“I like to use my athleticism a lot. I’m making plays and using my arm strength. I take extra bases when I can and get stolen bases. I’m hitting a few home runs here and there. I’m pretty well-rounded. I’m not a power-only guy.”

Dayton played just 14 games before the 2020 season was halted. Tirotta started cold and finished hot. He wound up hitting .228 (13-of-57) with one homer, one double, 15 RBIs, nine runs, four stolen bases.

He batted fourth in the Flyers’ final game on March 9 at Dayton swept a three-game series against Northern Kentucky. 

The previous day, Flyers head coach Jayson King inserted Tirotta in the 3-hole and he went 3-for-6 3-for-6 with a home run, double, three runs batted in and three runs scored.

“I was putting good barrel on the ball and going in a good direction,” says Tirotta. “Then COVID happened.

“(Coach King has) done everything for me. He’s gotten me into the Cape and a lot of good leagues. He gets us where we need to be.”

Tirotta hooked up with the CSL when other collegiate summer leagues were canceled or scaled back for 2020. 

He got into 28 games in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019 — 19 with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and nine with the Harwich Mariners. He signed a temporary contract with Y-D and finished with league runner-up Harwich. He supposed to go back to Harwich this summer, but the league canceled its schedule.

He knew he wanted to play summer ball. He was not sure where and then the opportunity came at Grand Park.

“There’s a lot of guys I grew up playing with and against,” says Tirotta, a 2017 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls his 17U and 18U summers after being with the South Bend Silver Hawks for 15U and 16U and the Michiana Scrappers for 11U through 14U. Coached by his father, he started organized baseball at Southeast Little League in South Bend.

Playing summer ball two times a week in Indiana, Riley also gets to be around parents Mike and Stacy Tirotta and younger brother Jordan (a 2020 Marian graduate who plans to study dentistry at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis). 

Sunday nights are for dinners at grandpa Frank Tirotta’s house. It’s not unusual for 40 or more relatives and friends to gather for these weekly feasts or on holidays.

“I have a very close family,” says Tirotta. When pandemic hit that shut down meals with his grandfather — a widower — and visits were kept at a distance. “He was fed up with it and itching to see everybody again.”

Mike Marks has broken bread with the Tirottas. He runs the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and has been helping Riley with his swing since Marian coach Joe Turnock and son Josh Turnock recommended him during Tirotta’s freshmen year with the Knights.

“He’s the reason I am a college hitter,” says Tirotta. “I put in a lot of hours with him.

“He’s definitely part of the journey in my baseball career.”

Baseball gears back up again next week. Right now, Tirotta is getting ready to join family for some camping.

Riley Tirotta, a graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This summer he is playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (University of Dayton Photo)

Indiana graduate Cohen voice of the Iowa Cubs

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Alex Cohen went to college, he was surrounded by Chicago Cubs fans.

Growing up a baseball-loving kid in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Cohen pulled for that city’s team and he let his friends at Indiana University know about it.

“I was an obnoxious Phillies fan,” says Cohen.

His first memories of the game surrounded the 1993 National League champions featuring Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra and Curt Schilling.

The first foul ball he ever gathered and first autograph he ever got was from Mickey Morandini, who had played at IU.

Some non-Phillies that got Cohen’s attention were Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez.

Cohen played at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pa. When not on the diamond himself, he was rooting for Phils stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels.

It was also at Upper Dublin that Cohen and friends formed a sports broadcasting club.

Josh Getzoff went on to become pre- and post-game host and play-by-play announcer for the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Stephen Watson would go on to be a sports anchor for WISN News in Milwaukee.

Flash forward more than a decade after his high school days and Cohen is the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, Chicago’s affiliate in the  Triple-A Pacific Coast League. The 2020 season is to be his third in Des Moines.

“This is Cubs country,” says Cohen. “Being the voice of a Chicago Cubs affiliate, it comes with a lot of responsibility.

“There’s just so many Cubs fans who come out in full force. You can tell that the Cubs fans are just a little bit different.”

And not just at Principal Park in Iowa.

Cohen recalls a game during a steamy 2018 day in Fresno, Calif.

“I’m getting to the ballpark a little bit late and I see a line out the door with Cubs fans,” says Cohen. “It was essentially a Chicago Cubs home game.”

That’s when he really began to recognize the national appeal of the Cubs.

Cohen was a Journalism major with a Sports Marketing & Management minor at Indiana, a school that was talked up by a friend who went there. The deal was sealed after a visit to Bloomington.

His freshmen year, Cohen wrote about tennis for the Indiana Daily Student.

He worked four years at the student radio station — WIUX.

There was an internship with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Philadelphia’s Triple-A International League affiliate in Allentown, Pa. He soaked up knowledge from the broadcast team of Matt Robbins and Jon Schaeffer.

Cohen was with the Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, Ill.) of the independent Frontier League in 2011 and mentored by Adam Young.

The first job in affiliated baseball came for Cohen with the Milwaukee Brewers organization and the Double-A Southern League’s Huntsville (Ala.) Stars in 2012 and 2013.

Former major leaguer Darnell Coles was a first-time professional manager in Huntsville. Cohen and Coles experienced highs and lows together.

“He’s probably the best guy I’ve ever met in professional baseball,” says Cohen of Coles.

One high moment came when Coles summoned Cohen to the locker room before a game in Jackson, Tenn.

Coles had acted mad on the phone, so Cohen thought he was in trouble.

Instead, Coles introduced Cohen to former Seattle Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. The broadcaster — the one who had imitated a right-handed version of Junior during backyard wiffleball games — and the ballplayer talked for an hour.

Cohen also came to respect and gleaned adjectives and pace of play-by-play voices in the Southern League at the time — Birmingham’s Curt Bloom, Montgomery’s Joe Davis, Pensacola’s Tommy Thrall and Tennessee’s Mick Gillespie.

Bloom’s “approach to the life of working in baseball and embracing the grind” is what Cohen appreciates about the veteran broadcaster.

Davis is now with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Thrall the Cincinnati Reds.

Cohen says baseball play-by-play requires proper pace and tempo.

“Basketball and football are melodically so quick,” says Cohen. “You’re just following the action.

“Baseball is more of an art form. In a three-hour game, maybe 30 to 40 percent is action.

“You’re filling in all the background between pitches.”

Cohen was not behind the mike in 2014, but was learning as a media relations and broadcast assistant for the Oakland Athletics. He was exposed daily to the on-air styles of Vince Cotroneo and Ken Korach.

The 2015 season saw Cohen back in the booth with the Idaho Falls Chukars, a Kansas City Royals farms club in the short-season Pioneer League.

In 2016 and 2017, Cohen was in the Low Class-A Midwest League as play-by-play man for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods, a member of the Tampa Bay Rays system.

Working in Bowling Green, Cohen learned to see the game from a unique perspective.

“It’s a really different angle when you’re calling from (the) third base (press box),” says Cohen. “Your depth perception is a little off on balls hit to the outfield (You learn to watch the umpire or look at the monitor).

“It’s fun with your strike zone because you can tell pitches up and down a little bit better. In and out is a little more difficult.”

The radio booth at Tacoma of the PCL is also on the third base side.

Cohen encountered communicators like Chris Vosters in Great Lakes, Ball State University graduate Tom Nichols in Dayton and Jesse Goldberg-Strassler in Lansing.

“The world’s most-interesting broadcaster,” says Cohen of Goldberg-Strassler. “He’s focused on finding that small detail.”

Along the way, Cohen’s baseball fandom has become tied to his employer.

“As a broadcaster in Minor League Baseball you are a fan of the organization you work for and the affiliate they are with,” says Cohen. “You see these guys work so hard to get to the big leagues.

“You root for them to do well and by proxy you root for the big league team to do well.”

While he tends to work solo on the road, Cohen has a color commentator for home games. Deene Ehlis has been a I-Cubs broadcaster in some capacity for three decades and can tap into that treasure trove of memories.

Ehlis, who for years was paired with Randy Wehofer (who is now Iowa’s assistant general manager), does play-by-play in the middle innings and Cohen moves over to color.

Cohen and Ehlis have developed a rhythm over more than 150 games together.

“It’s more a conversation with baseball intertwined,” says Cohen. “That’s our main job is to paint the picture for the fans.”

Legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas will always have a warm spot in Cohen’s heart.

His current favorite is the Cubs’ Pat Hughes. With Chicago playing so many day games and Iowa so many night contests, Cohen gets to listen to Hughes while prepping for his game.

“The reason Pat is so good on radio is balance,” says Cohen. “Pat paints the picture. It makes sure the fan doesn’t get distracted from the game, but they also get background information.

“He’s just so even-keeled. There’s no bad games. He goes 2-for-4 or 3-for-4 every game as a broadcaster.”

In the PCL, Cohen is in the company of mike men like Nashville’s Jeff Hem, Las Vegas’ Russ Langer, Reno’s Ryan Radtke, Salt Lake’s Steve Klauke, Memphis’ Steve Selby and Oklahoma City’s Alex Freedman.

“They are tremendous guys,” says Cohen.

All have learned about the grind in a 16-team league that is so geographically spread out that it leads to lots to commercial air travel.

“From a travel standpoint, there’s no other minor league league like the PCL,” says Cohen, who notes that getting to airports in the wee hours, arriving in the next city at mid-day and then being ready for a night game is common.

“I’ve been through a lot,” says Cohen. “I’ve lived in a lot of different time zones. I’ve gone paycheck-to-paycheck up until Iowa job.

‘It’s both rewarding and time-consuming. We spend a lot of time away from your family and friends. This is the industry we chose. I don’t view it as paying your dues.”

During the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that has live baseball on hold, Cohen stays sharp by contributing to Iowa Cubs social media and calling simulated games for MLB The Show.

“It scratches that itch,” says Cohen, who was supposed to go out to spring training in Arizona March 20 (pandemic hit March 13). “I definitely have fun with that.”

He’s also been doing media interviews and online chat sessions such as the one he did with the Society for American Baseball Research’s Chicago chapter on Sunday, April 26 as part of the #StayHomeWithSABR initiative.

Asked about his home run call, Cohen told the virtual gathering about his rule.

“My rule when I got into broadcasting was I don’t want to have a home run call until I make it to the big leagues,” says Cohen. “If I make it to the big leagues then I’ll have my own home run call.”

Cohen, who has also called baseball games for the Australian Baseball League as well as in Taiwan, Japan and Colombia and the World Baseball Softball Confederation, has visited or worked at three Indiana ballparks — Victory Field in Indianapolis, Parkview Field in Fort Wayne and Four Winds Field in South Bend.

“I love it,” says Cohen of Victory Field, the home of the Indianapolis Indians and a place about 45 minutes from the IU campus. “I love urban ballparks.”

For this reason, he counts parks in Nashville, Charlotte, Baltimore, Denver and — of course — Chicago among his favorites.

“I really like Wrigley Field because even though it’s not in ‘The Loop’ or anything, you can still see what Wrigleyville has to offer,” says Cohen. “(The Fort Wayne TinCaps‘ Parkview Field is) probably one of my top five parks I’ve ever been to in Minor League Baseball. They just did it right. They have enough berm area. They have enough suite level. It’s so open. You have a panoramic view of the city.”

Cohen says he was unimpressed on his first visit to South Bend in 2011 then he came back after owner Andrew Berlin made many upgrades to the place.

“That ballpark has taken on a life of its own,” says Cohen of the South Bend Cubs‘ stadium. “It’s Wrigleyville Jr. It’s so cool.”

Combining the park, fans, proximity to Notre Dame and downtown amenities, Cohen says, “I’m not sure if there’s any better full scene in the Midwest League.”

Cohen was there the day Eloy Jimenez socked a home run against Bowling Green’s Diego Castillo (who is now with the Rays).

“It was a cold winter night in April,” says Cohen. “It was a 96 mph fastball running up and in.

“I’m not sure that ball has landed yet.”

Count Cohen a fan of Howard Kellman, who has been calling Indianapolis Indians games for more than four decades.

“Howard’s one of those classic voices,” says Cohen. “He’s so steady. You just know that he knows what he’s talking about. You know he’s done his research.

“In terms of pacing and verbiage and pausing, I really do try to emulate Howard.”

As a young broadcaster, Cohen does use advanced stats into his call. But he doesn’t force them.

“I’m not just reading them off a sheet for no reason,” says Cohen. “If Donnie Dewees is batting at the top of the order, you want to talk about his OBP (On-Base Percentage), OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play).

“That’s important to a 1- or a 2-hole hitter or someone who needs to get on-base. I don’t want to randomly read out sabermetrics.”

Any advice for anyone thinking of baseball broadcasting as a profession?

“With the contraction of Minor League Baseball, it’s tough,” says Cohen. “You don’t know how many gigs are going to be available at any given time.”

To hone their craft, Cohen prescribes repetition.

“Try to broadcast college or high school games,” says Cohen. “If you can’t, take tape recorder to a professional game.

“Email every single major league media relations director and director of broadcasting and say, ‘Hey, I have my own equipment. I want to get into broadcasting. Can I take one of your empty booths at a random game in May?’”

That gives the aspiring play-by-play man the chance to record a demo that can be sent to other broadcasters and directors for critiques.

“That’s how I got my experience early on,” says Cohen, who says he is open to the idea of being shadowed and then providing access to an open booth at Principal Park.

“You go through that process over and over and over again until you see jobs you want to apply for,” says Cohen.

JOEBIDENALEXCOHENAlex Cohen (right), the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, gets a visit in the booth on July 4, 2019 from Joe Biden. Cohen is a Philadelphia area native and graduate of Indiana University. (Iowa Cubs Photo)

Iowa Cubs hire Stephens as stadium operations manager

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Stephens has gotten the call up to Triple-A baseball.

Stephens, a Goshen, Ind., native who graduated from Indiana University with a Sports Marketing and Management degree in May 2019, has accepted a stadium operations manager position with the Iowa Cubs, the top affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

A 2015 graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School in Benton, Ind., where he played baseball and basketball, Stephens returns to the team where he served two internships.

After graduation, Stephens went to work as stadium operations assistant with the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs. He worked for that franchise for a month before being offered the job in Des Moines, Iowa.

“It’s a good opportunity at such a young age,” says Stephens, 23. “I’m glad they reached out to me.

“I’ve always wanted to work in baseball. I enjoy minor league baseball. It’s more relaxed and a family atmosphere. There’s something about baseball that keeps fans coming.”

Baseball has always been important in the Stephens family. Bryan and Holly often planned their vacations with Josh and younger sister Jenna around baseball.

When Josh was 6, he and his father set a goal of attending games at all 30 Major League Baseball parks. When Josh was 17, that goal was achieved.

“Sometimes sister and mom would tag along if national parks were involved,” says Stephens.

A lifelong Cubs fan, he ranks Wrigley Field as his favorite MLB venue.

“As a Cubs fan, I’m pretty loyal to Wrigley,” says Stephens of park in Chicago’s north side. “It’s the nostalgia.”

His next two choices are Fenway Park in Boston and PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Stephens has not been to too many minor league parks.

“I really like Four Winds (Field in South Bend),” says Stephens. “The (seating on the) roof tops are really cool.”

Principal Park is the home of the Iowa Cubs.

The way Iowa does it, stadium operations has a manager, three directors and about 25 interns during the season.

Stadium ops is responsible for all facility repairs and for executing off-season events like weddings and concerts.

During the season, game day is broken into three parts.

The morning shift cleans the seating bowl with blowers and hoses.

At game time, it’s about executing between-innings promotions and fan engagement.

“I like being outside and doing the grit work,” says Stephens, who has worked on the golf course grounds crew at Maplecrest Country Club in Goshen. “You get to learn people’s stories. You’re not always behind the desk.”

Stephens says it always helps Iowa when a major leaguer comes to Iowa on a rehabilitation assignment.

“We get more fans,” says Stephens.

After the game, stadium operations begins preparation for the next day and there’s trash removal and lock-up.

One popular post-game promotion is offering fans the opportunity to come on the field watch “Field of Dreams” on the video board.

After all this is Iowa. One one family vacation, the Stephens landed at the site where the 1989 movie was shot near Dyersville. It just so happened that star Kevin Costner was there for a reunion and a young Josh got to play catch with “Ray Kinsella.”

Stephens is due to return to Iowa the week of Feb. 17. Meanwhile, he and fiancee Lauren Lehr (a 2015 Goshen High School graduate and kindergarten teacher at Prairie View Elementary in Goshen) are finalizing plans for their June wedding at Tippecanoe Lake Country Club in Leesburg, Ind.

The Iowa Cubs are scheduled to open the home portion of the 2020 Pacific Coast League season April 14.

Before then, stadium operations will be performing tasks like turning on the plumbing, removing snow and putting up signage on the outfield wall.

LAURENLEHRJOSHSTEPHENSIOWA

Lauren Lehr (left) and Josh Stephens share a moment at Principal Park in Des Moines, Iowa. Stephens has been hired by the Iowa Cubs as a stadium operations manager. Lehr and Stephens, both of Goshen, Ind., are engaged. The wedding is scheduled for June 2020.