Tag Archives: South Bend Silver Hawks

Honored South Bend park has ties to Hall of Famer Coveleski

Four Winds Field in downtown South Bend, Ind., was recently recognized as the nation’s best High Class-A minor league baseball ballpark for 2022 by Ballpark Digest ater earning top honors among Low-A franchises in 2017.
While had its current name for a number of years, it started out as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium.
Most people called it “The Cove” and many still do. A statue of “Covey” has greeted visitors who come through the outfield gate of the park since 2014.
The stadium that has been home to the South Bend White Sox, South Bend Silver Hawks and South Bend Cubs.
Stanley Coveleski, who was born on this date (July 13) in 1889 in Shamokin, Pa., moved to South Bend and ran a filling station on the city’s west side after a pro pitching career that landed him in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1969.
Coveleski went into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame in 1976.
A right-hander with a mean spitball, he hurled from 1912-28 with the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators and New York Yankees. He went 214-141 for his career with five seasons of 20 or more victories.
Coveleski won three games with an 0.67 earned run average for Cleveland in the 1920 World Series — which also featured Terre Haute left-hander Art Nehf (who’s name is attached to the baseball facility at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology — Art Nehf Field) — and reeled off 13 straight victories with Washington in 1925.
It was just a few years (1984) before the park named in his honor that Coveleski died at 94. At the time of his passing he was the oldest living Hall of Famer. He is buried in South Bend’s Saint Joseph Cemetery.

A bronze statue of Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski has greeted visitors to Four Winds Field since 2014. The park opened as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium.

Grand Valley State gold glover Nelson a student first, but he still loves being an athlete

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

Spencer Nelson enjoyed a comeback baseball season for NCAA Division II Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Mich.) in 2022.
After missing the 2021 campaign while recovering from surgery for a torn left hip labrum, South Bend, Ind., native Nelson started in all 50 of GVSU’s games and .325 (67-of-206) with eight home runs, six triples, 17 doubles, 35 runs batted in and 49 runs scored.
The righty-swinging lead-off hitter posted a .969 OPS (.386 on-base percentage plus .583 slugging average) and was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Midwest all-region second team and all-Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference second team. He enjoyed four-hit games against Wayne State and Davenport and produced 20 multi-hit contests.
A center fielder, Nelson also collected an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award while completing a bachelors degree in Information Systems.
“I’m a student first and an athlete second,” says Nelson. “School and athletics is sometimes hard to balance out.”
He was on a Pre-Med track while also playing baseball then made a switch.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep on Sundays with a lot of stress and sacrifices,” says Nelson. “I decided to devote myself to developing myself as a player and a teammate.
“I love baseball and I was not not ready to give it up.”
Nelson, 23, plans to pursue a masters in Computer Science while playing for the GVSU Lakers in the spring of 2023.
His role in 2022 was often as center fielder and lead-off hitter.
“You’re in-charge out there (in center field),” says Nelson. “You can roam wherever you want. It’s a fun little area to hang out.”
Playing the outfield, communication becomes key when tracking the ball and making relay throws.
“Everybody in the outfield should be aggressive to catch it,” says Nelson. “This year I had a lot of trust in my guys as I tend to do every year.
“In college, covering the gaps is extremely important. I’m always telling the left fielder and right fielder no to play straight up and eliminate extra bases when possible.”
As for leading off, Nelson also gets to use his speed.
“It’s more about contact than power,” says Nelson. “But I’m I’m very adjustable to wherever I play. I’ve batted in the 3-hole.
“Wherever you put me I will adjust to that role.”
Nelson helped Grand Valley State go 30-22 in 2022.
“We definitely played our hearts out,” says Nelson. “But with talent we have we can definitely do better.”
Jamie Detillion is the Lakers head coach.
“He definitely vouches for his guys,” says Nelson of Detillion. “He’s a very very caring guy and wants to be a winner.
“He’s aways listening to input and adjusts to our liking (as players) while maintaining his role.”
Born and raised in South Bend, Nelson first fell for the game as a T-ball player at South East Side Little League.
He played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers, South Bend Silver Hawks and Hitters Edge.
He played varsity baseball for four years at John Adams High School in South Bend, where he earned the all-academic award four times and was a three-time team MVP, two-time team captain and first-team all-Northern Indiana Conference as a senior.
Mike Cass was the Eagles head coach when Nelson graduated in 2017.
“(Cass) wanted to win and develop the program,” says Nelson. “He made calls for me to (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) and that helped quite a bit.
“It’s about being respectful to those above you so they can show respect back to you.”
Nelson played for the Kellogg Bruins in 2018 and 2019.
“I had two amazing coaches (head coach Eric Laskovy and assistant head coach Jim Miller),” says Nelson. “It was tough love. They taught me a lot on and off the field.”
Now 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Nelson left high school weighing about 170.
“I was pretty scrawny,” says Nelson. “Kellogg is a blue collar athletic program and school. You’re taught to work hard.
“Eating right was the No. 1 thing. I think I worked out for three or four years without missing a day (minus Sundays)
“It helped me become a little bigger and made my body as healthy as it’s been.”
Nelson played in the South Bend men’s league each summer from 2017-21. He was with the Mishawaka Brewers until joining the South Bend Royals in 2021.
In 2022, he played 21 games with the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Muskegon (Mich.) Clippers and hit .293 with four homers and 16 RBIs before coming home to earn some money for college.
Spencer is the youngest of Bill and Sheila Nelson’s five children. Indianapolis-based educational administrator Naomi is the oldest, followed by consultant to medical companies Tiara and IBM employee Madison in California and software engineer Connor in Arizona. Bill Nelson is a retired salesman. Sheila Nelson is a hairdresser.

Spencer Nelson (Grand Valley State University Photo)
Spencer Nelson (Kellogg Community College Photo)
Spencer Nelson (Grand Valley State University Photo)

Re-booted Michiana Brewers serve prep seniors, college players and more

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

The Mishawaka (Ind.) Brewers — a baseball team co-founded in the 1990’s by Shawn Harper and Alex Parker — took 2021 off and has rebranded as the Michiana Brewers.
It is an organization works to provide an opportunity for high school seniors, collegiate baseball players and recent college graduates to play competitive ball with home fields in north central Indiana.
With a focus on players in or about to enter college baseball with some former minor leaguers in the mix, the Michiana Brewers — renamed to reflect the wide area where the team gets players — will compete in the National Amateur Baseball Federation’s Major Unlimited Division and play an independent schedule. The South Bend semi-pro league consists of only two teams — the Brewers and South Bend Royals.
Under the guidance of manager Harper and pitching coach/assistant Chuck Bowen, the Brewers plan to play around 30 games from Memorial Day weekend to second week of August in 2022.
There’s typically one weeknight game (often on Friday) and a doubleheader or tournament on Saturday or Sunday.
The season opener is to be a home game with the Fort Wayne Jackers. A home-and-home series is planned with the Chicago Suburban Baseball League’s Beecher Muskies.
The 2022 Charlie Blackburn Major Division NABF World Series is to be played in Battle Creek, Mich.
Harper and Bowen place the level of play on the Brewers’ schedule at just below summer wood bat circuits like the Northwood League.
The Brewers recently secured Rex Weade Stadium at Harris Township Park in Granger, Ind. — home of Indiana University South Bend baseball — as one home field and hopes to also host games at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and other locales.
Now that a home field has been secured, the recruiting process has begun.
Two John Glenn graduates — Calumet College of Saint Joseph baseball player Michael Machnic and Holy Cross College basketball player Billy Harness — have committed to the Brewers for the upcoming season.
Harper (a 1991 graduate of South Bend John Adams High School who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski then played for and managed the Indiana University South Bend club team) and Bowen (a 2007 graduate of John Glenn where played for John Nadolny and went on to play two years for Joe Yonto at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.) recently met with and received support from IUSB head coach Doug Buysse and South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director, 1st Source Bank Performance Center director and former South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley.
Harper says he plans to carry a roster of up to 25 with some pitcher-only players. In the past, position players paid $200 to participate with pitcher-onlys paying $100. Sponsorships are being sought to cover team expenses.
Commitment is something Harper expects from his players.
“On the day of game, I want them to ask themselves if they are excited and can’t wait to get to the field,” says Harper. “If they are torn. If there’s a conflict at all, don’t play.
“In 16 years I’ve never forfeited one game. I’m very proud of that.”
Harper accepts players to miss 25 percent of the time as long they communicate that with him.
In October, Harper was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in Evansville, Ind., after being nominated by former South Bend Senators manager and the man he replaced as South Bend semi-pro league president — Ron Milovich.
The best ways to contact are the Michiana Brewers Facebook page or by calling Harper at (574) 514-2028 or Bowen at (574) 780-0696.

Michiana Brewers (formerly Mishawaka Brewers)

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.

Bethel U. graduate Thompson leads MidAmerica Nazarene baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2021 college baseball season will mark the 15th as head coach for Ryan Thompson at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.

Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.

As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.

“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”

Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.

In the fall of 1995, Thompson was a 17-year-old walk-on at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where the Blue Knights head coach was — and still is — Dennis Conley.

“He was a great coach,” says Thompson of Conley. “He was intense and demanding. It helped me grow up and mature.”

Familiar with area junior college baseball from his time at Southern Illinois University, Riggleman recruited Thompson to Bethel.

“I love Sam,” says Thompson. “We still talk frequently.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggleman has been on several Zoom calls with the MidAmerica Nazarene coaching staff.

Thompson recalls Riggleman as a fierce yet caring coach.

“Sam left the benchmark in my mind,” says Thompson. “I remember what the practices were like. 

“(Players) really respected him.”

Among his Pilots teammates were Indiana high school products Craig Sherwood (Elkhart Central), Jeremie Riggleman (Mishawaka), Seth Zartman (Caston), Brian Blondell (South Bend Washington), Ryan Takach (Penn), Shawn Summe (Penn) and Allen Hodge (Goshen). 

Jeremie Riggleman, a shortstop at Bethel, is Sam’s son. 

Zartman has been head baseball coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. 

Blondell was a Bethel assistant and head coach at Holy Cross College and is the founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel organization. 

Takach was in the Arizona Diamondbacks chain, including a stint with the 2000 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, and in indy ball.

Former college baseball coach Summe is now athletic director at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. — less than 20 miles from MidAmerica Nazarene.

Thompson, Takach and Blondell were the top pitchers on the 1998 Bethel team which lost to Indiana Tech in the NAIA regional.

Thompson got to know Hutcheon as a player then coached for him for three seasons each as pitching coach at Bethel and Air Force Academy.

“Hutch is a great communicator and recruiter,” says Thompson. “He’s a good friend as well.

“I enjoyed my time with him.”

Thompson also maintained contact with Siler and received a visit from him in the summer of 2019.

“He was a numbers guy and taught me so much,” says Thompson of Siler, who died July 20, 2020 at 84. “I just learned so much from him.”

Thompson coached future professional pitchers Eric Stults, David Humen and Greg Kloosterman.

Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.

Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.

At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.

Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.

In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.

Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.

Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.

MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.

“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.

Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.

The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.

Ryan Thompson, a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is entering his 15th season as head baseball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2021. (MidAmerica Nazarene University 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)

Rawlings Tigers South Bend serving travel players from northern Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Looking to provide opportunities for development and exposure in elite travel baseball tournaments while keeping area players in the area, a group of coaches established a Rawlings Tigers outlet in South Bend, Ind.

Coached by Scott Quinn, Kevin Putz and Jason Robbins, the Rawlings Tigers 16U South Bend team participated in five tournaments in its initial season of 2020. The team won the Perfect Game Baseball Association Mid-American Classic. The squad plays mostly in Perfect Game and Prep Baseball Report events, many of which are invitation-only.

Quinn, who once owned the South Bend Bandits travel organization, decided to affiliate with the Rawlings Tigers — a group with teams in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Southern Indiana and 27 other states — for name recognition and a commitment to top-flight training and competition, which is part of the Rawlings Tigers culture.

“We were tired of seeing players head to Indianapolis to play in bigger tournaments,” says Quinn, who played at South Bend Riley High School, graduating in 1995, and Spoon River College in Canton, Ill. “We all believe in the practice aspect instead of just show up-and-play the games.

“We wanted the same experience the kids in the Indy area have.”

That means off-season training and the opportunity to build team chemistry since the ideal Rawlings Tigers South Bend roster has no more than 14 and no pitch-only players on the roster and players have multiple responsibilities.

“We’re looking for kids who can play both ways,” says Quinn. “You don’t get better at playing this game by watching it. You get better by playing it

“(Players) need to be on the field and participating in every aspect of the game.”

The Rawlings Tigers South Bend’s roster consists of northern Indiana players. 

“Most of our kids know each other off the baseball field,” says Quinn. “We have an abundance of high schools in a small area.

“It all seems to mesh really well.”

There is an emphasis on hustle and unity as well as workouts.

“Effort and team can beat talent any day of the week,” says Quinn. “We tend to practice more than most (travel) teams.

“We’re looking for players that are really committed and want to take that next step. We expect a lot of our players. They must maintain at least a 3.3 GPA. The amount of work we put it is second to none.”

A group tryout for next season was already held at Mishawaka (Ind.) High School. Quinn says individual tryouts can be scheduled.

With many multi-sport athletes, Rawlings Tigers South Bend preseason baseball and strength workouts begin in December at RBIs Unlimited in Mishawaka

“We have a lot of practices and do a lot of running to get ready for the next season and to prepare players to make the varsity at their high schools,” says Quinn.

The hope is that the 2021 Rawlings Tigers South Bend season will include up to eight tournaments at either the 16U or 17U level. 

There will be a PBR National Championships qualifier at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Qualifiers will compete in the nationals at LakePoint in Georgia. There will also be Perfect Game events in the Toledo, Ohio, area as well as PG’s World Wood Bat Association tournaments.

“I’m a big believer in doing training with a wood bat,” says Quinn. “The sound (crack vs. ping) tells you whether you hit the ball correctly or not.”

Putz (Class of 1991) and Robbins (Class of 1990) are both graduates of South Bend Washington High School, where they played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski

Putz played at Triton College in River Grove, Ill., and New Mexico State U.

Robbins, who is Quinn’s brother-in-law, was a right-handed pitcher at Wake Forest University and in the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks systems, including the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks for manager Dick Scott.

Quinn considers it a privilege to now be coaching with Putz and Robbins.

“I grew up watching them play,” says Quinn.

In seventh grade, Quinn began a long relationship with John Nadolny. He would play for him at Riley and his son — Konner Quinn (Class of 2023) — plays for Nadolny at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind.

“He’s a big influence on my career as a player and coach,” says Quinn of the man they call Nud.

Konnor Putz is also on the Rawlings Tigers South Bend.

The Rawlings Tigers South Bend 16U team won the Perfect Game Baseball Association Mid-American Classic in 2020. It was the first season for the travel team. The Rawlings Tigers have teams in 28 teams and bases. Other bases in Indiana include Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Southern Indiana.

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)

Former pro slugger Zapp giving back to baseball as youth coach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Zapp is like so many baseball coaches. He is anxious to practice with his team.

Hopeful that time will come soon, Zapp gives an indication of how that session might go.

“We like to get into a lot of fundamentals early on — things like PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt defense, baserunning and defensive outfield play,” says Zapp. “We run multiple stations during batting practice. We keep (players) busy and avoid a lot of standing around.

“We like to keep practices short and sweet. Get your work done and get out of there.”

Zapp likes practices to take 1:30 to 1:45.

“After that you lose their attention,” says Zapp. “It’s not the number of reps, it’s the quality of reps you want to be taking.

“It requires the right mindset. Kids must come to practice to work.”

A.J. and wife Nikki Zapp reside in Greenwood and have three children — Evan (15), Ellen (13) and Emilie (10).

Evan Zapp (Center Grove High School Class of 2023) plays on the Indiana Bulls 15U Grey travel baseball team with his father as an assistant to head coach Zach Foley.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teams separated now, there is hope they might be able to play in the latter half of June. Zapp’s team is supposed to play three of four events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., with out-of-town tournaments in Bloomington, Ind., and the Atlanta and Kansas City areas.

A.J. has coached his son on the diamond since Evan was 6, including some time with the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Like his father, Evan throws with his right arm and bats from the left side.

“I encouraged him to be left-handed hitter,” says A.J.

In 2019, A.J. Zapp was Bulls 14U Red head coach. For eight years — seven with the Astros and one with the Bulls — A.J. coached with Phil Milto (uncle of former Roncalli and Indiana University pitcher and current Chicago White Sox farmhand Pauly Milto). Doug Zapp, A.J.’s father, was bench/pitching coach for seven seasons.

A former baseball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., Doug Zapp is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Doug and Linda Zapp have an older son named David.

Eighth-grader-to-be Ellen Zapp and sixth-grader-to-be Emilie Zapp play for the Circle City Volleyball Club in Plainfield, Ind.

Zapp, who turned 42 in April, got his organized baseball start at Center Grove Little League (now know as Center Grove Youth Baseball) in Greenwood, Ind. In 1992 and 1993, he was on Center Grove Senior League squads that went to the Senior World Series in Kississimmee, Fla.

Up until high school, A.J. was coached by his father. The younger Zapp was a catcher when he was younger. At 12 or 13, he moved to first base.

With a stacked Center Grove High varsity team, A.J. got just 10 varsity at-bats as a sophomore then began turning heads with the Indiana Bulls in the summer of 1994. He also shined on the CG varsity in the spring of 1995 and with the Bulls that summer.

In the fall of 1995, Zapp signed a letter of intent to play for head coach Paul Mainieri at the University of Notre Dame. As his senior season approached, he was hearing from that he might be taken high in the draft.

“I had a tough decision to make,” says Zapp, who helped his pro ball status with a 1996 season that saw him hit .524 with 16 home runs and be named first-team All-American, first-team all-state and Indiana Mr. Baseball. Center Grove won the Franklin Sectional, Franklin Regional and Richmond Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Jasper at the IHSAA State Finals.

Zapp did not make an early verbal college commitment.

“It’s a little bit different now,” says Zapp. “We have (high school) freshmen and sophomores committing now.

“It makes it tough on the college recruiters to have to evaluate players at 15 and 16. But it’s the times we live in.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was Zapp’s head coach at Center Grove.

“Coach Gandolph ran a great practice,” says Zapp. “He was well-prepared for the games. All the players loved playing for him.

“He’s just a good guy and a great baseball guy.”

Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Zapp was selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

South Spencer High School right-handed pitcher Josh Garrett (No. 26 by the Boston Red Sox) was also a first-rounder in 1996. He pitched in affiliated baseball through 2001, reaching the Double-A level.

Both Zapp and Garrett signed pro contracts prior to the 1996 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Zapp played 1,046 games in the minors (1996-2006) in the Braves (seven seasons), Seattle Mariners (two), Cincinnati Reds (one) and Los Angeles Dodgers (one) systems with 136 home runs and 542 runs batted in.

He socked 26 homers and drove in 92 at Double-A San Antonio as a Texas League postseason all-star in 2003 and belted 29 homers and plated 101 while hitting .291 at Triple-A Tacoma in 2004. On Aug. 20 of that year, he drove in nine runs and vaulted the Rainiers to victory with a walk-off grand slam.

Zapp is one of the few players to launch a homer over the tall wall in center field at Cheney Stadium – the “Blue Monster.”

Notable Zapp teammates included Mike Hessman (Minor League Baseball home run king with 433), Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, Matt Kemp, Edwin Encarnacion and Marcus Giles.

Brian Snitker, who is now the manager in Atlanta, was Zapp’s manager at Low-A Macon in 1998, High-A Myrtle Beach in 2000 and Double-A Greenville in 2002.

Former Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves manager and current Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez was Zapp’s manager at Triple-A Richmond in 2002. After that season, Zapp was granted free agency and signed with the Mariners.

Former major leaguers Paul Runge (Greenville in 2002), Dan Rohn (Tacoma in 2004), Rick Sweet (Louisville in 2005) and John Shoemaker (Jacksonville in 2006) also managed teams that included Zapp.

Some of Zapp’s hitting coaches were Franklin Stubbs, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Gregg and Sixto Lezcano in the Braves organization, Adrian Garrett with the Reds and Mike Easler with the Dodgers.

Zapp played on pennant winners at Myrtle Beach (Carolina League in 2000) and San Antonio (Texas League in 2003). Jacksonville (Southern League in 2006) lost in the finals.

He also played winter ball in Australia (voted MVP), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

As baseball goes about streamlining Minor League Baseball, the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 10-11 will be just five rounds — down from the 40 of the past several years.

“Those days can change a kid’s life,” says Zapp. “Losing out on that many rounds, I’m not a fan of it.

“There will be a lot of free agent signs.”

An unlimited amount of undrafted players can be signed for $20,000 each.

Kris Benson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Clemson University. Besides Zapp, first-round high school draftees were Texas pitcher John Patterson (No. 5 by the Montreal Expos), Pennsylvania pitcher Matt White (No. 7 by the San Francisco Giants), California third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10 by the Oakland Athletics), Washington pitcher Adam Eaton (No. 11 by the Philadelphia Phillies), Florida pitcher Bobby Seay (No. 12 by the Chicago White Sox), California outfielder Robert Stratton (No. 13 by the New York Mets), New York outfielder Dermal Brown (No. 14 by the Kansas City Royals), Virginia shortstop Matt Halloran (No. 15 by the San Diego Padres), Louisiana shortstop Joe Lawrence (No. 16 by the Toronto Blue Jays), Louisiana pitcher Todd Noel (No. 17 by the Chicago Cubs), Georgia pitcher Jake Westbrook (No. 21 by the Colorado Rockies), Louisiana pitcher Gil Meche (No. 22 by the Seattle Mariners), Kansas third baseman Damian Rolls (No. 23 by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Florida pitcher Sam Marsonek (No. 24 by the Texas Rangers) and Pennsylvania outfielder John Oliver (No. 25 by the Cincinnati Reds).

Sandwich first-rounders in 1996 included North Carolina outfielder Paul Wilder (No. 29 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), California pitcher Nick Bierbrodt (No. 30 by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Florida pitcher Matt McClendon (No. 33 by the Reds), Canadian pitcher Chris Reitsma (No. 34 by the Red Sox) and New York pitcher Jason Marquis (No. 35 by the Braves).

Benson (70 wins in 10 seasons), Patterson (18 victories in six seasons), Chavez (260 home runs in 17 seasons), Eaton (71 wins in 11 seasons), Seay (11 wins in eight seasons), Brown (271 games in eight seasons), Lawrence (55 games in 2002), Westbrook (105 wins in 14 seasons), Meche (84 wins in 10 seasons), Rolls (266 games in five seasons), Marsonek (one appearance in 2004), Bierbrodt (six wins in five seasons), Reitsma (32 wins and 37 saves in seven seasons) and Marquis (124 in 17 seasons) all made it the bigs. Bierbrodt made a stop with the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks along the way.

Stratton and McClendon made it as high as Triple-A, Halloran Double-A, Noel and Wilder Advanced-A and Oliver Low A.

In 2019, there were 13 high schoolers drafted in the first round — Texas shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 by the Royals), Florida outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 by the Detroit Tigers), Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 6 by the Padres), Texas corner infielder Brett Baty (No. 12 by the Mets), California third baseman Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 by the Minnesota Twins), Washington outfielder Corbin Carroll (No. 16 by the Diamondbacks), Illinois pitcher Quinn Priester (No. 18 by the Pirates), Georgia Premier Academy/Panamanian pitcher Daniel Espino (No. 24 by the Cleveland Indians), North Carolina pitcher Blake Walston (No. 26 by the Diamondbacks) and New Jersey shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 30  by the New York Yankees).

North Carolina high school pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 33 by the Diamondbacks) was a compensation first-round selection.

Competitive balance first-round picks from high school were Texas pitcher J.J. Gross (No. 36 by the Rays) and Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani (No. 37 by the Pirates).

Abrams played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2019.

Indiana’s three 2019 first-rounders came from the college ranks — University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson (No. 19 by the St. Louis Cardinals), Tulane University third baseman Kody Hoese (No. 25 by the Dodgers) and Ball State University pitcher Drey Jameson (No. 34 by the Diamondbacks). Thompson (Wapahani), Hoese (Griffith) and Jameson (Greenfield-Central) are prepped in the Hoosier State.

Generally speaking, there are more right-handed pitchers out there. That means lefty swingers will see pitches breaking into them. Of course, the opposite is true with righty hitters against lefty pitchers.

Zapp sees big leaguers try to combat this trend.

“The two-seamer and cutter very popular in Major League Baseball now,” says Zapp. There’s also been plenty of lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty. “Games lasting longer because of the match-ups late in the game. Relievers have wipe-out sliders. Every reliever seems to throw 95 mph-plus with their fastball.”

When Zapp was playing, the gas increased as he went up in levels.

“A lot of those big arms are starters early in their careers and they move to the bullpen,” says Zapp.

Looking at how the youth baseball scene has changed over the years, Zapp says in the impact of social media and entities like Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report give players so much exposure.

“The training, too,” says Zapp. “Kids are training all year-round. There’s a lot of hard workers.

“The competition is getting better. It’s a very competitive sport.”

Zapp, who was head baseball coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2007, is around sports during his day job, too. As a sale representative for BSN Sports — the largest Nike and Under Armour team dealer in the country — he talks all day with athletic directors and coaches and sells practice gear, football, uniforms, spirit wear and more.

AJZAPPCARD

A.J. Zapp graduated from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996. (Best Card Image)

AJZAPPFAMILYNikki and A.J. Zapp are surrounded by their three children (from left): Evan, Emilie and Ellen. A.J. was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Center Grove High School in 1996, played 11 professional seasons and is now a coach with the Indiana Bulls with Evan on the team.

 

Berlin sees giving back to the community part of South Bend Cubs’ duty

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“We’re not superheroes here, but we like to use our power for good.” — Andrew T. Berlin, owner and chairman of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs

Berlin has used the strategies that have made him successful as a businessman, attorney and philanthropist in Chicago and brought about growth in downtown South Bend, where he enters his eighth season of owning a professional baseball franchise in 2019.

In November 2011, Berlin reached an agreement to purchase the South Bend Silver Hawks. He signed a 20-year agreement with the city of South Bend for the use of Coveleski Regional Stadium.

South Bend ended a 17-year affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks and began its first Player Development Contract with the Chicago Cubs beginning with the 2015 season. The current PDC ties South Bend and Chicago together through 2022.

Berlin says the South Bend Cubs have the advantage of being able to leverage the Chicago Cubs brand.

“There’s a lot of interest there,” says Berlin, 58. There has been talk about bringing the South Shore Line and its access to the Windy City to Downtown South Bend with the station a short walk from the ballpark.

Along the way, the park has had a name change to Four Winds Field. Millions of dollars have gone into renovations and other amenities, including the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and apartment buildings — The Ivy at Berlin Place — that are slated for completion this spring (Berlin signed the lease for the first of 121 units and expects to be in town for each homestand during a regular season which goes from April 4 to Sept. 2).

The Midwest League All-Star Game returns to South Bend for the first time since 1989 and three days of events are planned June 16-18.

Berlin and his off-field team, which now includes about 375 full-time and seasonal employees, including president Joe Hart, relish their role in South Bend and the surrounding area.

“The health of the city is something we take seriously,” says Berlin. “We’re not a government entity. We’re a private corporation. But we see the South Bend Cubs is part of the public trust, if you will.

“It belongs to the community in spirt and in soul. For us a happy and successful community is a happy and successful club. The team does better when the city’s doing better.”

Berlin sees it as a duty for his organization to impact areas like education and charity. He’s witnessed good being done by many entities not as high profile as a professional sports team.

“All of us here at the South Bend Cubs see it important to be giving back to the community,” says Berlin. “We want to see the tax revenues growing in the city so the city can invest money in infrastructure and reducing the amount of crime in the area — not just by more policing but providing more opportunities for the folks that are committing the crimes.

“They might see crime as the only path to financial success or relevance.”

Berlin went to California to learn more about the concept of what has been called “conscious capitalism.”

“It is good business to engage the community and help the community around you,” says Berlin. “Some people call it karma. Some people call it you get what you give.

“But as long as we’re a giving organization, the community ends up — whether consciously or subconsciously — rewarding us.

“We’re here to make a profit and support our employees with good wages,” says Berlin. “I delight in the fact that we’ve hired more people. We three times more employees now than there were eight years ago.”

Through games, concerts and other events, the club hopes to bring 400,000 or more people to Four Winds Field which allows more chances to give back.

“We’re helping folks out by doing a lot of philanthropic things,” says Berlin. “Giving money to worthy organizations that do a lot of good work. We do a lot of vetting of those organizations to assure it’s not going toward administrative costs.

“It’s very much a part of the heart and soul of the organization.”

SOUTH BEND CUBS

2019

Thursday, April 4

• Home and Season Opener vs. West Michigan, 7:05 p.m.

Midwest League All-Star Game Festivities

Sunday, June 16

• All-Star Concert at Four Winds Field (artist to be announced in the coming weeks).

Monday, June 17

• Fan Fest with autograph sessions with six former Chicago Cubs players, including Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins and Andre Dawson plus East and West All-Stars. Proceeds from Fan Fest ticket sales will go to one of five charities selected by the fans (Beacon Children’s Hospital. Logan Center, Pet Refuge, South Bend Education Foundation or United Way of St. Joseph County)

• Home Run Derby featuring MWL All-Stars.

• 2016 World Series trophy will be at the park.

Tuesday, June 18

MWL All-Star Game Luncheon at Century Center, 11:30 a.m. with keynote speaker and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

MWL All-Star Game, 7:35 p.m. The game will be broadcast live locally by WMYS (My Michiana) and regionally by WCIU (The U Too in Chicago) for the first time in league history. South Bend Cubs broadcaster Darin Pritchett will have the TV call.

Approximately 3,000 tickets have been sold for the All-Star Game and 500 tickets have sold for the All-Star Luncheon.

Promotions

• Dog Day Mondays. Fans can bring their dogs to the ballpark and fans can enjoy $2 hot dogs, $2 popcorn and $2 peanuts. There will be free Fun Zone wristbands for ages 12-and-under. This excludes May 27 and Aug. 12.

• $2 Tuesdays. Fans may purchase $2 tickets in advance for Tuesday games — online only. The offer is valid for April 14, May 7, May 28, Jine 4 and Aug. 6.

• Bobblehead Nights are scheduled for 2015 South Bend Cub David Bote (Wednesday, June 5) and Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish (Wednesday, Aug. 21).

• New theme nights include Polish Heritage Night (Thursday, April 25), PBS Kids Day (Sunday, June 23 and Sunday, June 30) and Dino Day (July 11). Full descriptions and theme days are available on SouthBendCubs.com.

• Fans are invited to share their photos and videos taken at the ballpark all season long by submitting them on MySouthBendCubs.com.

• Two April Saturday dates will have 4:05 p.m. start times with gates opening at 2.

Food

• The “Sweet Spot” dessert stand, located beside Gates A, is a new concession option. It will feature hand-dipped novelty ice creams and elephant ears and takes the place of the former Burgertopia location. Burgertopia is getting its own separate stand on the first base side concourse. An Italian sausage sandwich with peppers and onions has been added to the menu.

• Loaded tots will be served for $5 at the Waveland and Sheffield stands.

• Fresh Squeezed Lemonade will be available beginning in May.

SOUTHBENDMWLASG19

ANDREWTBERLINMILB

Andrew T. Berlin, owner and chairman of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs, has his minor league baseball franchise practicing “conscious capitalism.”