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Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Morgan Township, Grace graduate Dougherty pursuing goals in independent United Shore Baseball League

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was a time in the life of Joe Dougherty that he convinced himself he was done with baseball.

“I was thinking about giving up on baseball at the time,” says Dougherty, who is pitching for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich. “I’m very thankful I didn’t do it now.

“A lot of people have told me to stick with my dream so I would have no regrets later in life.”

A successful right-handed pitcher, infielder and outfielder at Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., where he helped the Jason Dorshorst-coached Cherokees win IHSAA Class 1A sectional titles as a junior and senior in 2012 and 2013, Dougherty was not planning on pursuing baseball at the next level.

For his prep career, Dougherty won 20 games with 253 strikeouts — both school records. He was 9-3 with a 1.83 ERA and 102 K’s as a junior in 2012 as Morgan Township went 23-5 and followed that up with 18-10 in 2013.

Dorshorst, who went to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, told Dougherty he thought he had what it took play college baseball.

“He helped me a lot,” says Dougherty of Dorshorst. “He understood me as a player. He encouraged me to go after my dream.”

With newfound confidence, that dream had changed pursuing baseball at the college level and — maybe —  beyond.

Enter Bill Barr.

The head baseball coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., Barr was there when Dougherty enjoyed a very fine day on the diamond.

It was in the semifinals of the 2013 Caston Regional. Dougherty clubbed a grand slam, drove in five runs and also pitched in relief in a 6-5 semifinal loss to Elkhart Christian.

After the contest, Dougherty talked with Barr and was convinced to make a campus visit.

That led to a four-season career with the Grace Lancers  the first three with Barr as head coach.

“I give him credit for giving me the opportunity for playing college baseball,” says Dougherty, who made 30 appearances with Barr as head coach and 12 as a senior with Cam Screeton in charge of the Lancers program.

Dougherty fanned 78 and walked 58 in 106 1/3 innings at Grace.

During Grace’s spring trip, Dougherty met Diamond Hoppers manager Paul Noce.

A baseball veteran, Noce who played for the 1987 Chicago Cubs and 1990 Cincinnati Reds and was a successful head coach at Hillsdale (Mich.) College saw potential in Dougherty and invited him to Michigan to throw a bullpen session after the college season.

“It was only throwing in the mid-80’s at that point,” says Dougherty of his velocity. “(Noce) encouraged me to keep working hard.”

So Dougherty went to play for the Shawn Harper-managed Mishawaka Brewers of the Northern Indiana Adult Baseball League and worked out with Shane Zegarac, pitching and strength coach at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. — a short drive from Valparaiso.

“He deserves a lot of credit for getting me here in the first place,” says Dougherty of Zegarac, who pitched in the Texas Rangers organization and parts of three seasons with the Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent Frontier League.

The 6-foot-3 Dougherty packed on about 20 pounds and his heater was up to low 90’s when he went to pitch for the Canada A’s of 2018 California Winter League. He made eight mound appearances (three as a starter) and was 1-1 with a 2.41 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and 12 walks in 20 1/3 innings.

He was signed by the USPBL — a developmental league with four teams (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths are the others) that play all their games at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, a northern suburb of Detroit.

The league takes Mondays off. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are non-public day games. Thursday through Saturday are night contests and Sundays are day games. The regular season began May 11 and wraps Sept. 2. Each team plays 50 games. Rosters are limited to 20 players age 18-26.

“This league is focused on getting players to the next level,” says Dougherty. “They are pretty good at giving guys plenty of time to develop those skills.

“They give you a really good shot to further your career here.”

More than 20 players have gone on to sign contracts with Major League Baseball-affiliated teams since the USPBL debuted in 2016.

Dougherty has been starting and is 1-1 with a 5.09 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 17 walks in 17 2/3 innings.

Between starts, he does a lot of recovery work and maintenance in the weight room — staying away too much in-season heavy lifting. He also does a lot of running, including sprints.

Dougherty was born and raised in Valparaiso the third child of Keith and Beth Dougherty. His older sisters are Rachel and Kelsey.

He played summer league at Morgan Township and then a little travel baseball in junior high and high school.

At Grace, Joe earned a degree in Design Engineering Technology. He says he is especially interested in computer-aided design.

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Joe Dougherty, a graduate of Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., and Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is now playing for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League. (USPBL Photo)

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Joe Dougherty goes into his wind-up during a game at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, Mich. All games in the four-team United Shore Professional Baseball League are played there. (Matt Cripsey Photo)

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Determination shows on the face of Joe Dougherty as he warms up for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers on the independent United Shore Baseball League. He is a graduate of Morgan Township Middle/High School and Grace College in Indiana. (Matt Cripsey Photo)