Tag Archives: South Bend Silver Hawks

Closser heeds call of baseball coaching

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.D. also learned about accountability.

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

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

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

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

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

JDCLOSSERTRENTON2017

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

 

Advertisements

Mental, physical toughness important to Concord’s Lehmann

rbilogosmall

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.

WALTERLEHMANNCONCORD1718

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)

 

Sidearm Nation helps hurlers get hitters out by changing arm angles

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

So you pitch and you come over the top or at three-quarter overhand and you’re not getting the results you want. How about changing arm angles and tossing the baseball as a sidearmer or submariner?

Geoff Freeborn, who pitched from the left side at Northern Kentucky University, North Idaho College as well as independent professional baseball and for Team Canada, has created Sidearm Nation to help hurlers with dropping down.

An Illinois Sidearm Nation Camp open to all ages and featuring former pro sidearmers/submariners Peter Sikaras, Kenny Long and Ken Raines is scheduled for noon to 5 p.m. CST Aug. 19-20 at Pro Player Consultants, 5112 Prime Parkway, McHenry, Ill. All pitchers are welcome. Specialized coaching will be provided for sidearmers and submariners. Cost is $290 for both days and $150 for one. The camp will be limited to 40 participants.

For more information, email info@sidearmnation or visit http://www.sidearmnation.com.

Recently, Freeborn participated in an IndianaRBI Q&A session.

Q: Why do pitchers change their arm angle?

A: I guess most pitchers change their arm angle out of necessity. Either struggling with current arm angle and something needs to change or down on the depth chart, not pitching that much. Dropping down isn’t for everyone, if you’re pitching well, why change what’s working? But if you’re getting hit around pretty consistently then why not? You have nothing to lose. If you do drop down or are asked to drop down, you have to fully commit to it for it to work.

Q: What are the advantages of an arm angle change?

A: Overall it’s about deception from a lower angle. For the most part it’s not going to be about lighting up the radar gun. Movement is going to be the key from there.

Q: Is it about changing eye levels?

A: Hitters overall get used to seeing the same angle all the time from coaches in batting practice etc. Sidearm/submarine pitchers can mess that up.

Q: What are the disadvantages?

A: I think one of the disadvantages is that you can get pigeon-holed a little bit, that you can only get same-side hitters out. In pro ball for example I tended to just be a lefty-specialist. Would have been a fun job in the MLB but not necessarily for Indy ball. Guess you also tend to just be a reliever, but at same time that can be a pretty good change for some.

Q: Can anyone change their arm angle?

A: I think overall anyone can change their arm angle or at least give it a shot. It tends to be the pitchers that are tall and lanky that pick up on it quicker. Multi-sport athletes or multi-position players tend to pick up on it quicker than say someone that is just a pitcher only.

Q: Do you have favorite sidearmers?

A: I’d have to say current Blue Jays RHP Joe Smith. Also being a LHP I’d have to say Randy Johnson. I used to love watching him.

Q: What about favorite submariners?

A: I never really got to see him pitch but love watching highlights of Dan Quisenberry. Also enjoyed watching Japanese pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe.

Q: How many sidearmers/submariners would you say are in pro ball?

A: That’s a good question. I’d say pretty much at least every time in each level in the minors usually has 1-2 in their bullpen. I think more and more sidewinders are getting drafted now and MLB teams are realizing how important they are.

Q: What about in college baseball?

A: College baseball-wise almost every program probably has 1-2 also in their pen. More colleges are recruiting high school sidewinders instead of having to drop someone down that’s struggling in college.

Q: Do these players tend to be starters or relievers?

A: Most sidewinders do tend to be relievers, do tend to be more successful one time through the order.

Q: I’m guessing there aren’t that many coaches that are familiar with the mechanics of a submariner?

A: I think were there can be some problems is when a pitching coach suggest to a pitcher to drop down but then doesn’t know what to do. Sometimes they get left in the corner to figure it out on their own, which I guess can be a good and bad thing. That’s where hopefully Sidearm Nation can be of help. We have over 200 interviews with current/former pros, basically a free e-book and then we run 5-6 camps per year.

Q: Are the number of sidearmers/submariners on the rise, the decline or steady?

A: Like I mentioned previously I think they are definitely on the rise. More pitchers are realizing by dropping down that can be there ticket to say playing college baseball. Majority of the pitchers I’ve interviewed if didn’t drop down the weren’t going to make their high school or college team then after dropping down, ended up making it to AAA/MLB.

PETERSIKARAS

Peter Sikaras, who pitched with the South Bend Silver Hawks, Gary SouthShore RailCats, Team Greece and others, is to be an instructor at a SidearmNation camp Aug. 19-20 in McHenry, Ill.

 

South Bend’s Wawrzyniak helps ballplayers navigate language, cultural gaps

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Building better communication bonds between foreign professional baseball players and the club’s that employ them.

That’s what Linda Wawrzyniak is doing for the game with her Higher Standards Academy, LLC. When she started her business it was tied to adult education.

It has morphed into a service for teams who have increased their international investments and built baseball academies in Latin American countries but did not have an effective system to integrate players in ways that include more than balls, strikes and outs.

Based in South Bend and traveling extensively in the U.S. and Latin America, the bilingual Wawrzyniak works to help athletes navigate language and culture gaps.

She teaches English classes and so much more.

Wawrzyniak and HSA had a contract with South Bend Community School Corp., when she was approached about a decade ago by the South Bend Silver Hawks, then a Low Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. That’s where she met South Bend field manager Mark Haley and D-backs executives. They wanted her to teach a few language classes.

“My son was in baseball at the time,” says Wawrzyniak. “I thought it would be fun. Then I realized that they didn’t have a great system to do this. Guys didn’t have a lot coming in and when they left, I didn’t know what they were going to. There were a lot of holes.”

Immersing herself into the world of baseball and figuring out how to help these young foreigners pursuing their diamond dreams, Wawrzyniak created a necessary niche.

“There’s just a ton of need,” says Wawrzyniak. “The broad brush stroke of English doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s so much that happens behind the scenes when they’re with us. It’s trust. We’re a different kind of coach, really.

“We’re not just teaching English, we’re teaching a few other things. It’s the heart. It’s the cognitive processes of learning. It’s having another person to lean on emotionally.”

Wawrzyniak notes that it takes 500 hours in a classroom setting to learn conversational English.

“We don’t have 500 hours, so we have to do it faster,” says Wawrzyniak. “You develop some systems and methodologies.”

Many contractors work in-season only. Wawrzyniak trains them and oversees their programs.

“We take a lot of time to find good people,” says Wawrzyniak.

Major League Baseball requires all its teams have an integration program in the Dominican Republic. Some hire teachers and others have someone on staff.

By investing much time and energy, Wawrzyniak has learned how to get the conversation started and how to build relationships.

“With what I do, you’ve got to know those kids,” says Wawrzyniak. “You’re not just supplying paper and pencils. You know lives. You’re directly involved with player development. I know those kids and I know the teachers that know those kids.”

Three of the many players that Wawrzyniak has a connection with and has watched blossom in professional baseball are Venezuelans Ender Inciarte and Wilson Contreras and Dominican Eloy Jimenez.

Inciarte, 26, played in South Bend in 2010 and 2011, broke into the big leagues with Arizona in 2014 and is now with the Atlanta Braves. The center fielder was recognized as one of baseball’s best defenders in 2016.

“To see him win the Gold Glove, I cried,” says Wawrzyniak. “I was overjoyed for him. I knew the struggles he went through. He struggled with losing his father. For awhile, it really slowed him down but it didn’t stop him.”

Contreras, 25, played in the Midwest League in 2013 with Kane County and made his MLB debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. A versatile player, he has played most of his pro games as a catcher. He played in Game 7 when the team finally snapped its 108-year world championship drought.

“He just learned to temper himself,” says Wawrzyniak. “He’s a neat person. You watch these players figure out who they are. You see them mature. He learned to make the most of who he was.”

Jimenez, 20, is considered the top prospect in the Cubs system by Baseball America. The outfielder played in South Bend in 2016 and is now at High Class-A Myrtle Beach.

“He’s just a naturally joyful person who loves to play,” says Wawrzyniak, who has faced the rising star in ping pong and basketball. “That’s neat. You don’t see that very often.

“He’s paying attention to every aspect of his career.”

When the Cubs started expanding into the Dominican Republic a few years ago, they sought out Wawrzyniak to help them smooth the transition.

“By that time, I was already working in the D.R. and the U.S.,” says Wawrzyniak. “I already had that international experience and understood what that required.”

She understands that culture is an all-encompassing concept.

“Let’s break that down,” says Wawrzyniak. “Culture is defined as societal norms. But because America is a melting pot, we don’t have one culture. Navigating that is one thing. There’s also gender cultures and age cultures.

“Culture’s a lot of things. Until you’ve had to teach it, you don’t really realize how big that is.”

College-age people today have a different verbiage and values from those of 30 years ago.

“It’s basically a difference in generations,” says Wawrzyniak. “Slang in the United States changes every five years. The reason it changes is that it’s driven by pop media.”

A typical baseball clubhouse is full of multiple generations. The references that a staffer in his 50’s makes may not connect with a player of 20.

“You might have coach who grew up with The Terminator and this new generation who has never seen The Terminator, and the coach says “I’ll be back!” and the Latin goes are going “What?” The Korean guys are going “Huh?” It doesn’t carry.

“If you haven’t integrated social media and pop media into what you’re doing, you’re behind the times. You have to be able to help kids understand those things.”

Wawrzyniak, featured recently on MLB.com, did her job well enough to receive a big thank you from the Cubs — a World Series ring.

“The Cubs are an amazing organization — world class,” says Wawrzyniak. “They didn’t have to give me a ring. But they did because I think they saw the value in working with all these Latin players, which is such a huge percentage of their minor league system.

“Huge progress was made. They saw that and acknowledged that.”

In the Cubs organization, South Bend represents the first full-season team for its minor leaguers. They play 140 regular-season contests compared with about half that at Eugene, Ore., in the short-season Northwest League.

“It’s hard,” says Wawrzyniak. “It’s more games than they’re used to playing. There’s a little more traveling than before. It’s a higher level of competition.”

It’s also “not their first rodeo.”

By the time they come to South Bend, they’ve usually already been in the U.S. three or four times. First there’s a month in the fall instructional league. They go home and then come back for spring training or extended spring training. They return home and then come back the next year for another spring training or extended spring training session before heading to Eugene.

While the Cubs have a nutritionist and many meals are provided, players usually are responsible for one meal a day and they crave foods from back home. Many grocery stores carry Latin American brands like Goya and there’s some chains that are attractive.

“They love Chipotle,” says Wawrzyniak. “That’s as close to home as they can get.”

Of course, it all comes down to the game.

“I’ve learned more baseball than I ever thought I would know,” says Wawrzyniak. “I now see the game within the game. I ask questions of coaches all the time. We build that into our programs.

“It’s not like what you learn in the first year of high school Spanish — Donde Esta La Biblioteca? (where’s the library?). They don’t want to know that. We have to give them words that make sense in their environment. We create materials that correspond to that.”

Wawrzyniak has made it a point to know what it feels like to throw a pitch, swing a bat, make a slide. She watches baseball on TV each night and breaks it down. She has devoured history and statistics.

“It’s not something you can do without knowing,” says Wawrzyniak. “I’ve spent a lot of my time just learning. You’ve got to know all of it. If you want to be effective, you have to. Any field you’re in, you have to know it.”

HSA teaches players how to interact with reporters. Normal conversation-starting questions revolve around who, what, when, where, how and why. But many times it comes across as very open-ended and sets the player up for failure.

“Speaking to the media, to me, is one of the hardest things and it’s not because they don’t have the words,” says Wawrzyniak. “It often comes down to how the question is formulated. There are a variety of ways reporters ask questions and they’re not always the same. One is ‘tell me about …’ That’s so vague.

“Most men don’t like opened-ended questions. (It’s the difference between) ‘tell me about what you envision for Mother’s Day vs. ‘what do you think we should do for Mother’s Day?’ Most guys struggle with that, regardless of their nationality. It’s kind of a sneak attack on these guys because they don’t really know what you want.

“It’s better, when you’re dealing with an international player, to be more specific.”

Wawrzyniak’s advice: The reporter should know what they want from the interviewee when they pose the question.

It’s all about communication and making a connection.

LINDAWAWRZYNIAK1

Linda Wawrzyniak is helping the baseball community integrate foreign players with her Higher Standards Academy, LLC. The Chicago Cubs recently said thank you with a World Series ring.

Closser has Alexandria focused on work ethic, respect for the game

 

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tigers — in the wild — are known for being focused, determined and patient.

On the baseball field, the Tigers of Alexandria-Monroe High School are expected to display some of these characteristics and more.

Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria graduate, is in his 11th season as the Alex Tigers head coach.

“We always play hard (and are focused on) the integrity of the game,” says Closser. “I’m real big on treating the game the way it’s supposed to be treated and teaching the kids life lessons.

“It’s not all about baseball. It’s about learning to get along and deal with life, too.”

Closser wants his young athletes to know about strong work ethic.

“Kids are different hard now,” says Closser. “They think they want to work hard and they really don’t know how. We try to teach that.”

Assistant coaches Jeff Sells, Adam Rusche and Braden Warren are helping the sometimes-intense Closser deliver the message.

“You’ve got to trust your assistants,” says Closser. “You’re going to tell them things don’t want anybody else to know. You want to bounce stuff off their heads. They’ve got to take some stuff, too.

“I’m a pretty uptempo guy and I sometimes get excited. They’ve got to know that some of the things I’m saying to them they’ve got to let go over their head and not take it to heart all the time.”

Closser appreciates it when his younger players who don’t yet know his ways are counseled by the veterans.

“Our older kids will take them off to the side and say, ‘his bark is worse than his bite. Take it for what it’s worth. Listen to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it,’” says Closser. “Sometimes you have to be a dad to (players). Sometimes you have to be a coach to them or a mentor.”

When Closser took over at Alex, he established a junior high team, which mirrors what is being done at the high school and essentially has replaced Babe Ruth baseball in town. Those junior high boys play 20 games in June in the East Central Indiana League.

“I wanted them to start learning what we do at our level so when they come in as freshmen they could be ready,” says Closser. “It’s worked out really well for us.”

With so many three-sport athletes, there is not much travel baseball around Alex.

“I like three-sport athletes,” says Closser. “You don’t have to wonder what they’re doing when they’re not around you.

“I played three sports in high school. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it makes them a better person and more disciplined. You’ve got to have a routine.”

Alexandria, an IHSAA Class 2A school, has won 18, 19, 20, 22 and 16 games in the past five years and was off to a 5-2 start in 2017 despite not having a high team batting average.

“We’ll hang our hats on pitching and defensive this year and being aggressive on the bases,” says Closser. “We bunt; we steal; we hit-and-run. At this point, we have to do that kind of stuff to scratch out some runs.”

Baseball has a strong tradition at Alex. The Tigers have won seven sectional (1974, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1998, 2013, 2016), two regional (1981, 1998), one semistate (1998) and one state championship (1998).

The ’98 team (25-4), coached by Monte Sprague, featured Indiana Mr. Baseball J.D. Closser (Jeff’s son went on to play Major League Baseball with the Colorado Rockies after being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fifth round in 1998 and spending parts of the ’98, ’99 and 2000 minor league seasons with the South Bend Silver Hawks).

“It was fun to just sit back and watch,” says Closser. “They had a great team. It wasn’t just about (J.D.).

“It was fun for the other guys because there were always a lot of scouts around.”

In a 4-3 championship game win against Evansville Mater Dei, Joe Granger, Justin Musick and Mike Clark drove in runs while Granger, Clark, Justin Melton and Mat Blanton scored them. Jim Linder went to distance on the mound with nine strikeouts. J.D. Closser was presented with the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award.

That was the first school year for IHSAA class sports and Alex, coached by Garth Cone, also raised the state championship trophy for 2A boys basketball. Wade Leer, David Potter, Trester Award winner Rusty Garner and J.D. Closser logged the most minutes in the 57-43 title game win against Southwestern (Hanover).

J.D., the oldest of Jeff and Emily Closser’s three children, is coaching in the New York Yankees system. He is the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder (a Double-A affiliate).

Josh Closser played basketball at Alex and graduated in 2000. Jackie (Closser) Novinger graduated in 2003 and went on to play basketball at Butler University. One of her high school teammates was 2005 Indiana Miss Basketball Jodi Howell (who played at Purdue University).

The Tigers have produced eighth Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stars — DeWayne Allen (1981), Dan Overman (1984), Barry Morphew (1986), Dean Morehead (1990), Brian Yeagy (1991), Jeff Urban (1995), J.D. Closser (1998) and Owen Young (2014).

Alex plays in the Central Indiana Conference (with Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). Frankton has been ranked this spring in the IHSBCA Top 10. Each league team plays one another once on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

That leaves room for top-notch non-conference competition.

“We like to play a good schedule,” says Closser, who saw Alex host at an early-season tournament featuring defending 2A state champion Providence plus Rossville and Peru. “That puts us ready for the conference and for tournament time.”

JEFFCLOSSER

Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Alex Tigers.

Reinebold spreads baseball knowledge in Indiana, Jamaica

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sharing baseball with those who may not otherwise get a chance to play it.

That’s what South Bend’s Joel Reinebold has been doing in Indiana and the islands.

On behalf of Rounding Third, a non-profit organization he helped start with former South Bend White Sox/Silver Hawks front office man John Baxter and others, the son of late Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Reinebold has helped young players at The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in South Bend and with building and improving fields at area Little Leagues.

Reinebold recently returned from his seventh trip to Jamaica.

On most of those Jamaican visits, Reinebold has helped distribute equipment and baseball knowledge to youngsters.

“The kids are always very interested in learning,” says Reinebold, who is also head baseball coach at South Bend Clay High School. “(Jamaica) is the hub of the Caribbean. They have baseball all around them (in Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela), but they are lagging behind. (Jamaica) has athletes that can definitely play the game.”

The level of athleticism is higher than many kids from northern Indiana and southern Michigan Reinebold observes as a high school coach and director of the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp.

Reinebold said a lack of bats, balls, gloves etc., plus few natives with coaching knowledge and a scarce amount of land for baseball fields makes it tough for the game to get a toehold in a country where they love their sports.

“It gives the kids another sports option,” says Reinebold. “Pockets of baseball are so spread out. It’s not like here where every community has a Little League and travel teams.

“We’d love to build a baseball field, but land is so valuable down there.”

Young Jamaicans who do pick up the game usually stop by the time they go to high school because their are no school teams.

During his visit, Reinebold got to share baseball and smiles with players aged 7 to 13. He got to see how they observed Jamaica Day in their own-air school and how school was dismissed early so they could hustle on grounds usually reserved for cricket or soccer. All equipment was donated (it’s not like there’s a sporting goods store in every town or village). There were no $500 bats or $200 spikes.

Kids proudly rocked caps sent from Mississippi College (where Joel Reinebold played) by Dr. Jeannie Lane.

“It’s a different world from what kids around here are used to,” says Reinebold. “I wish I could take (Clay or camp) kids down there and say, ‘appreciate what you have. Look what these kids have to play with.’”

In his last two trips to Jamaica, Reinebold got to work with former U.S. minor leaguer Rainford Harris, who has his “boots on the ground” as a resident living in Negril and teaching the game to young natives. There’s also Damon Thomas is Buss Bay, near Ocho Rios.

He’s also worked with former minor leaguer Donovan Duncan and former Midwest Leaguer Andrew Dixon, who also live in the U.S., and occasionally come to the island to spread the message of baseball. Reinebold met Dixon at Treasure Beach a couple years ago.

A goal for Reinebold is a clinic sponsored by Rounding Third and the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp.

“I’d love to tie it into education,” says Reinebold. “The potential for those kids is amazing.”

Major League Baseball umpire C.B. Bucknor was born in Jamaica and lives in New York and also teaches the game to children in the land of his birth.

JAMAICABASEBALL1

Youngsters play baseball in Jamaica. (Joel Reinebold Photo)

JAMAICABASEBALL2

Jamaicans are eager to learn about baseball. (Joel Reinebold Photo)

JAMAICABASEBALL3

The joy and hustle is evident in these Jamaican ballplayers. (Joel Reinebold Photo)

JAMAICABASEBALL4

Joel Reinebold enjoys the beach on his seventh visit to Jamaica. (Photo Courtesy of Joel Reinebold)

JAMAICABASEBALL5

Places to play baseball in Jamaica are few and far between. (Joel Reinebold Photo)

South Bend owner Berlin enjoys being part of Cubs organization success

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andrew Berlin is still basking in the glow of the 2016 World Series win by the Chicago Cubs.

The minority partner in the Major League Baseball club and owner of the affiliate South Bend Cubs goes over the highlights of Game 7 (he was there along with his wife and two of his five children) and finds many way connects the bigs and the minors.

“It was the most draining game to be at with the most amazing ending,” says Berlin. “During that rain delay, they had a players-only meeting where they talked about ‘are we winners or are we losers?’”

Bottom line: Cubs 8, Indians 7 (10 innings). The longest championship drought in the history of American sports ended when the Cubs won it all for the first time since 1908.

“That chant of ‘we never quit!’, it never gets old,” says Berlin. “I still get chills when I think about it.”

Berlin, who became owner in South Bend between the 2011 and 2012 seasons and partnered with the Cubs beginning in 2015, talks about how the organization began shedding the tag of “Lovable Losers” when Theo Epstein resigned from the Boston Red Sox after the 2011 season came to Chicago as president of baseball operations.

Epstein started overhauling things from the bottom up while putting his people and plan in place.

One of those people is field manager Joe Maddon, whom Berlin calls Obi-Wan Kenobi himself” and touts some of his quotes like “Never permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.”

Berlin notes that the keyword for the Cubs in 2017 is “uncomfortable.”

“There’s no complacency,” says Berlin. “The ring ceremony at Wrigley is going to be April 12. the ring is going to be a chandelier of sapphires, rubies and diamonds — all the Cub colors. But they’ve told those guys that ring has to go to a safe deposit box and they have to get another one. That’s the focus.”

It truly is a “C” change.

“The whole culture had to be changed and articulated,” says Berlin.

Part of all that is at the player development level and that’s where South Bend comes in.

“The road to the World Series starts in South Bend. I tell (Chicago Cubs chairman and owner) Tom Ricketts that all the time,” says Berlin, who notes that the world champs would not have had flame-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman without having a player the caliber of Gleyber Torres, who played in South Bend, to trade to the New York Yankees.

While he played for the South Bend Silver Hawks as an Arizona Diamondbacks prospect, Miguel Montero went on to drive in a key run late in Game 7 for the Chicago Cubs.

“The amount of talent that South Bend has that goes on to the Chicago Cubs is undeniable,” says Berlin. “It’s absolute.”

Berlin also looks back on success at the turnstiles in South Bend and looks for even more exciting things at the downtown ballpark now known as Four Winds Field in 2017 and beyond.

After watching South Bend draw 350,803 customers (an average of 5,084 for 69 openings) in ’16, Berlin has set a goal of 400,000 in ’17.

A year ago, the Cubs ranked No. 5 out of 16 teams in the Low Class-A Midwest League in attendance (behind Dayton’s 548,574, Fort Wayne’s 413,701, Kane County’s 400,931 and West Michigan’s 386,416).

“We only want to be 1,” says Berlin, whose executive teams includes Joe Hart as president and Nick Brown and vice president and general manager.

In order to take a run at the goal, Berlin and his South Bend employees continue to make improvements from ballpark amenities like food to adding seats and (coming in 2018) an apartment complex with balconies overlooking the field.

“The apartments will be sound-proof,” says Berlin, who plans to have a ballpark dwelling of his own. “Unfortunately, we’re going to loose the foghorn. I don’t think residents want that going off every time we score a run.

“It’s not just about baseball. Since we’ve been here, we’ve attracted a lot of development to Downtown South Bend. We showed that it was possible to invest her and be profitable.”

The South Bend Cubs are scheduled to play an exhibition game against Notre Dame Wednesday, April 5. After two games in West Michigan, the 2017 home opener is scheduled for Saturday, April 8.

ANDREWTBERLINMILB

South Bend Cubs owner Andrew Berlin is also a minority partner with the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs. (MiLB Photo)