Circumstances have caused Conner Tomasic to build his baseball and academic careers in unique ways. The 2018 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., went to Purdue University in West Lafayette for two seasons (2019 and 2020), transferred to South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., for one (2021) and then came back to the Big Ten with Michigan State University (2022). The right-handed pitcher has another year of college eligibility, but his next move might be as an independent pro. This fall, Tomasic is a commuter student at Purdue Northwest in Hammond, Ind., while staying prepared for his diamond future. His major is Construction Engineering and Management Technology. Tomasic entered college as a Kinesiology major. Having had Tommy John surgery in high school he had worked with plenty of physical therapists. A Biology course at Purdue made him decide that was not the path for him. He followed some teammates and went with construction. “I like to see things in front of me and work with my hands,” says Tomasic. “It felt like a teamwork class. I felt comfortable with it. “You learned how to deal with people and work a job site. An associate degree was earned at South Suburban, a two-year school. But Tomasic also faced a bit of a curve. He had to switch his major at Michigan State to Psychology to stay eligible. A 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, Tomasic took the mound 17 times (nine as a starter) for head coach Jake Boss Jr.’s MSU Spartans. He went 4-4 with a 5.40 earned run average, 41 strikeouts and 26 walks in 65 innings. Because of the work load, Tomasic did not play summer ball, focusing on strength training. In July, he began traveling from Schererville, Ind., to PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., to work with Director of Player Development/Pitching Anthony Gomez. The two have known each other since Tomasic — who turned 23 in August — was an eighth or ninth grader and Gomez was coaching in northwest Indiana. “We’ve always been close,” says Tomasic of Gomez. “It’s nice to work with someone who’s seen me grow up and develop. “He knows my delivery almost as well as I do. He knows what I need at the end of the day.” His PNW classes meet Monday through Thursday then Tomasic heads to central Indiana for workouts later that day or on Friday before returning to The Region. Tomasic has three pitches — a four-seam fastball, slider and change-up. His four-seamer was clocked at 92.9 mph this summer at 93 mph at South Suburban. His slider — often thrown between 77 to 79 mph — has evolved. “When I first started throwing it, it was a ‘gyro,’ says Tomasic of the pitch’s movement. “Now it’s getting mike more a ‘bullet’ slider. You can see the dot (as it rotates). “My change-up, some people think it’s a splitter. It depends on what it’s doing that day. The majority of the time it’s going to sink and have arm-side run. But sometimes it dives straight down.” Tomasic describes his delivery as “a little funky.” The arm angle is about mid-three quarter overhand. But the delivery comes low. “It’s something (opposing batters) don’t see that often,” says Tomasic. “My fastball plays up in the zone so it seems fast than it is.” Tomasic sees determination and focus as two of his best athletic qualities. “I’m a guy who know how to separate his sport from his daily life,” says Tomasic. “If I have a bad, I flush it. If I have a good day, I forget about it quick. “You’ve got the day ahead of you in baseball.” Born in Hammond and raised in Schererville, Conner is the oldest of Jerry and Dena Tomasic’s two children. Jennifer Tomasic (Lake Central Class of 2021) played basketball at Indiana University Northwest in Gary and Governors State University (University Park, Ill.). Jerry Tomasic was born in Yugoslavia before that country split and moved to the U.S. around 2. He played baseball but not past junior high and went on to play basketball at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa. Dena Tomasic works at Cheers Food & Drink in Munster, Ind. Conner played for the Dyer team that finished runner-up to eventual Little League World Series qualifier New Castle in 2012. When he was ready for a travel ball transition outside northwest Indiana at 15 to 16 he was unable to play for Top Tier because of his injured elbow. Tomasic shined as a two-way player at Lake Central and got to swing the bat for head coaches Mark Wasikowski and Greg Goff at Purdue and Steve Ruzich at South Suburban. As a three-year letterwinner and four-time scholar-athlete at LC, he played for head coaches Jeff Sandor and Mike Swartzentruber. The Indians won sectional titles in baseball and basketball in 2018 and Tomasic played a part while earning LCHS Pride, Hustle and Desire in both sports. He also earned 2018 Perfect Game All-American and All-Region Team honors. He was the Roger Maris MVP in leading Team Serbia to the title in the 2018 International Baseball Challenge Tournament in Whiting, Ind. In two seasons at Purdue, he hit .250 (3-of-12) with a triple in three runs batted and made one putout and five assists in the field. He pitched in 19 games (all in relief) with an 0-1 record, 4.30 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 11 walks in 25 1/3 innings. At South Suburban, the pitcher/middle infielder was an National Junior College Athletic Association all-region selection as he hit .392 with 60 hits, including eighth home runs, three triples and 12 doubles with 49 RBIs, 28 walks and 15 stolen bases. On the bump, he was 6-1 with a 4.64 ERA, 81 strikeouts and 22 walks in 64 innings. Tomasic played for the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Larks and Midwest Collegiate League’s (now Northern League’s) Northwest Indiana Oilmen in the summers of 2019 and 2020. Along the way the focus became pitching rather than two-way player. “I think I’m athletic enough,” says Tomasic. “I can pull it off.”
As part of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan’s coaching staff at Munster High School, Mike Mikolajczyk saw the importance of keeping the sport fun for players. “You’ve got to be loose,” says Mikolacjzyk, who enters his 24th year in the program and first as head coach in 2022. Only IHSBCA Hall of Famer Mike Niksic and Shinkan have held that title before Mikolajczyk, who was Mustangs freshmen coach for 20 seasons and varsity assistant for three. He is a 1989 graduate of Bremen High School in Midlothian, Ill., where he played four years of baseball for Braves coach Tom Johnson and earned all-conference and all-area honors as a junior and senior and was a team captain. He spent a half year with the baseball team at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in Teaching from Purdue University Calumet and a master’s degree in Arts and Language Arts from Governors State University. Mikolajczyk (Mick-O-Lie-Check) teaches sixth grade Reading and Language Arts at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster. In 2021, the Mustangs were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central and Merrillville (host). Munster won its 13th sectional title — the first since 2016. “We have 11 guys coming back from last year’s team,” says Mikolajczyk. “We will be pretty senior strong.” The Class of 2022 includes right-hander Brady Ginaven (Indiana State University commit), left-hander Jake Thometz (uncommitted) and right-hander Will Moell (Johns Hopkins University commit) at the top of the mound rotation. “I’m pretty excited about our top three pitchers,” says Mikolajczyk. “I could put those guys against anybody in northwest Indiana and we’ll be competitive.” Another key senior is outfielder/first baseman Tyler Lukowski. Juniors drawing D-I attention are outfielder Kozy Denham and outfielder/shortstop Kevin Hall. Recent graduates moving on to college ball include 2020 graduates in right-hander Costa Sirounis (Indiana University), right-hander Will Melby (Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs) and infielder Ronnie Nowak (Marshalltown, Iowa, Community College). From 2021, there’s right-hander/third baseman and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Bryce Schaum (Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.), second baseman/catcher Ben Greiner (DePauw University) and middle infielder/outfielder Derrick Wiening (Purdue Northwest). Munster (enrollment around 1,600) is located in Lake County and a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley and Lowell). The Mustangs plan to field three teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen — in 2022 — and Mikolajczyk estimates there will be 45 to 50 in the program. The first time Munster had paid assistants was four years ago. Mikolajczyk’s assistants include Matt Backs, volunteers Brian Boliek and Adam Musielak with the varsity, Mark Dye with the JV and an as-yet-to-be-named freshmen coach. Backs, who coached one year at Thornton Fractional North High School in Calumet City, Ill., and 27 years as Munster JV coach, will handle infielders and outfielders and coach first base. The Illinois State University graduate is a Project Lead The Way teacher at Wilbur Wright. Boilek, who enters his fifth year on the staff who has more than two decades experience of coaching travel and American Legion ball, is a bench coach and handles strength and conditioning. He works in banking and finance. Musielak was head coach for six years at Whiting (Ind.) High School and took the Oilers to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four in 2019. He has 10 years of coaching experience for baseball, basketball and football. The Indiana University alum teaches Physical Education at Munster. Dye is a Munster graduate who played at Earlham College In Richmond, Ind., and served a freshmen coach at Portage (Ind.) High School for six years. He teaches Social Studies at Munster. Infielders and catchers will be part of Mikolajczyk’s responsbilities. Munster had 10 IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions in September and early October with nearly 60 participants (not involved in fall sports). There were open fields and gyms with activity on Mike Niksic Field (which has a turf infield and grass outfielder), diamonds at Community Park, located next to the school and the home to Munster Little League and Munster Babe Ruth or the turfed football field. “In fall workouts, we get an idea of who’s really dedicated to you and who’s not,” says Mikolajczyk. An off-season weight program is baseball-specific and is geared toward flexibility and mobility. “What we’re trying to emphasize is bigger, faster, stronger,” says Mikolajczyk. “We’re not trying to bulk up. It’s about maintenance and an injury-prevention type of thing.” For the first time in program history, a 500-pound club (total for bench press, clean and jerk and deadlift) has been established to promote bonding and buy-in. Just before break, all 13 who attempted to qualify for a club made it and got a T-shirt. Qualifying is planned again in January and February. Mikolajczyk says strength and conditioning training has drawn 30 to 35 participants each time without freshmen. Little League (T-ball to age 12) and Babe Ruth (13-15) feed players to Munster High School. Several players are in travel ball with Morris Baseball, which is run by alum Bobby Morris. Hal Morris, Bobby’s brother, is a Munster graduate who made it to the big leagues primarily as a first baseman (1988-2000) and is also in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. More recently, outfielder Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University (2014-17) and is now in the Chicago White Sox organization. The Manous brothers — right-hander Connor (Class of 2016) and outfielder Garrett (Class of 2019 — were both on the IU roster in 2021. An avid golfer, Mikolajczyk is a 7-handicap on the links. He also enjoys hunting. He lives in Frankfort, Ill., with significant other Maribel Soto Piccinini. She has a son named Troy (26). Tanya Mikolajczyk, who was married to Mike, died of colon cancer in 2019.
Doug Nelson came home to teach and coach. Following a stint at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind., Nelson is now teaching health and coaching freshmen boys basketball and is the new head baseball coach at Portage (Ind.) High School. He graduated from the school in 1992. “I enjoyed Kankakee Valley,” says Nelson, who was making the 45-minute commute from Portage to KV. “Great people. Very good facilities. They’re growing. “This is just home to me.” Nelson played baseball at Portage for Tom Levandoski, who died Aug. 26, 2021. “That touched home with me,” says Nelson. “He meant a lot to me.” Nelson took the basketball job first when good friend Bryon Clouse was hired as Indians head coach in that sport. The baseball opportunity came later and Nelson took it for a chance to coach with son Nathan Ramian. The 2011 Portage graduate played four years of baseball for the Indians and is now Web Coordinator for Portage Township Schools. He will coach varsity infielders. Other Nelson assistants include varsity pitching coach John Selman, junior varsity head coach Mike Bruner, JV assistant Dallas Milligan, freshman head coach Derek Logsdon and freshman assistants Bryan Bernacki and Tommy Mosley. Selman was on the previous Portage staff. Bruner is a Portage and Purdue Northwest grad. Milligan went to Chesterton. He has a journalism degree with an emphasis in sports broadcasting from the University of Kansas. He has worked for the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs, ESPN and Fox Sports. He is a radio and video production teacher at the Porter Career Center while working toward a masters in communication at Purdue Northwest. Logsdon brings four decades of experience in coaching youth baseball in northwest Indiana. He graduated from Hobart High School and played football at Franklin College. Bernacki teaches Business at Portage and is schooled in analytics. Mosley finished his college playing career at Calumet College of Saint Joseph in Whiting, Ind. Doug is married to Ann Marie and has a younger son named Kale Nelson, who is a senior at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Nelson, who has a career diamond record of 166-91, was able to work with the Indians on the diamond during the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period. “I got to meet some of the guys and see them throw and hit,” says Nelson. “We had good numbers (35 to 40 at each session).” And that’s not including athletes in fall sports. When strength training sessions before school began, participation was also high. “Quite a few of them have committed themselves to what we’re trying to do in the weight room — not just for baseball but for health reasons,” says Nelson. “This winter has been great (with 40 to 45 players per practice) and we’re beginning in the (batting) cage. “Guys in college have come back to talk to guys about hitting or life after high school. Being a Portage grad myself, it’s gratifying to see that.” Alums who went on to college baseball in recent years include Scottie Hansen at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., Danny Puplava at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and Xavier Rivas at the University of Indianapolis. Josh Ortiz (Class of 2022) recently committed to Purdue Northwest. “We’re relatively young with a lot of freshmen and sophomores,” says Nelson. Portage (enrollment around 2,400) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Valparaiso). DAC games are played as home-and-home series on back-to-back days — mostly Tuesday and Wednesday. In 2021, the Indians were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Lowell and Valparaiso. Portage has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2013. To re-establish a feeder system, Nelson plans to meet with leadership in Portage Township to establish a program. “We’re going to make it happen,” says Nelson. “There’s too many people not playing in the summer. “We’re going to get that corrected.” Plans also call for a middle school program to play games in the fall. While there is no middle school baseball in the DAC, Porter County Conference schools do have it and are likely Portage opponents. “We’re in a time where you have to recruit your kids to stay at your own school,” says Nelson. “We have to do a better job of keeping them here in Portage. That starts with middle school baseball.” The program will allow players to get onto the bigger diamond and use drop-three bats while playing on the same team with other Portage students. “We can show the parents that we care of (their child’s) development and well-being.”
On Sunday, Aug. 16, he threw eight shutout innings of two-hit baseball with eight strikeouts and two walks as the Oilmen beat the DuPage County Hounds in Game 2 of the MCL championship series. It was a must-win situation since DuPage had taken Game 1.
“It was awesome that atmosphere at Oil City Stadium (in Whiting),” says Madura of his 99-pitch outing. “I trusted my preparation.
“I had playoff experience. I pitched in Game of the semifinals (in 2019) and that definitely helped.”
Madura pushed his two-year mark with the Oilmen to 10-0. He was a starter and part-time reliever in 2019 and was strictly used as a starter in 2020 with Chris Cunningham as manager and Matt Pobereyko as pitching coach.
Playing summer ball so close to home allowed Madura to continue working on his physical gains while also taking two summer courses. He is on pace to graduate from PFW in the spring. He plans to go to Fort Wayne this weekend and classes — some in-person and some online — are to begin Monday, Aug. 24.
The spring of 2020 marked Madura’s first with the NCAA Division I Mastodons. He made four mound appearances (all in relief) and went 0-0 with a 4.60 earned run average, 10 strikeouts and five walks and 15 2/3 innings.
“It helps keep your legs in shape,” says Madura. “It helps with recovery by getting the whole body going.
“We don’t run long distance at all. We’re trying to be more explosive.”
This summer, Madura regularly threw his fastball (he has a four-seamer and two-seamer) at 87 to 89 mph and touched 90 a few times. Using a high three-quarter arm slot, he also employs a “circle” change-up and tosses a slider.
“It has more of a slurve action on it,” says Madura. “It’s a two-plane break.
“It depends on what I’m trying to do in that at-bat — get it over for a strike or, if I’m trying to put a guy away, I’ll throw it harder.”
Born with two webbed fingers on his left hand, Madura had surgery at about 2. His parents — Mike and Sherrie — bought him baseball gloves for a righty or a lefty and he ended up using the former though he does many everyday tasks with his left hand.
Madura was born and raised in Munster. He played his earliest organized baseball at the Hammond YMCA. From 7 to 9, he played both at Munster Little League and for the traveling Schererville-based Pro Style Rockers. Then came a few summers with the Sports Works Stars. That team was coached by his father — also known as Mike.
The student-athlete who turns 22 in October is the sixth in a line possessing that name. When he was younger, it was easier to keep him and his father straight by referring to Big Mike and Little Mike. But the younger Madura — sometimes known as Michael — was 6-3 entering high school, 6-5 leaving it and grew an inch since going into college.
Is being tall an advantage?
Madura sees it as one.
“I have a lot more leverage on my pitches,” says Madura. “There’s a downward angle.
“It makes it that much harder on a hitter.”
Michael Madura was with the Northwest Indiana Hurricanes (father Mike as an assistant coach) at 12U and 13U.
“Coach Shinkan’s an awesome guy,” says Madura, who admired his ability to have fun while also getting his point across when it was time to get serious.
Madura played for the Chicago Suburban Baseball League’s Hammond Lakers (with Anthony Spangler as general manager) in the summers at Hammond’s Riverside Park before and after his freshman year at Central Michigan University.
He redshirted there at CMU in 2018, transferred to South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., and pitched in 2019 while completing his associate degree in Business Administration at the junior college. On the mound, he logged 42 innings in nine appearances (eight starts) and went 0-5 with a 4.29 ERA, 18 strikeouts and eight walks for the Steve Ruzich-coached Bulldogs.
Michael Madura is one of IT project manager Mike and nurse Sherrie Madura’s four athletic children. Tiffany (27) played volleyball at Olivet Nazarene University. Trisha (25) was a at Davenport University. Michael also played basketball until his sophomore year in high school. Kylie (14) is a volleyball and softball player at Munster High.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
“Every year we seem to be rebuilding,” says Jorge Ontiveros, ECC head coach since 2009. “We don’t have a big freshmen class coming in.
“This is every year.”
That’s one of the reasons Ontiveros and his coaching staff emphasize discipline. It is also a quality he got from his coaches while he was a Cardinals player.
The 1991 graduate played for Ruben Morris and then his senior year for Bo Reyes.
“We try to keep these kids organized and structured regardless of the score and the result of the game,” says Ontiveros. “They’re expected to be a certain way on and off the field.
“We expect them to be gentlemen. We want them to be productive students in the classroom and on the diamond just so we don’t have any problems.”
Ontiveros says there are usually about 20 players out each year in a school of about 1,200. Many of them are soccer players and wrestlers.
“They come in with that athletic ability,” says Ontiveros. “Our only challenge is hand-eye coordination with the baseball.”
East Chicago Little League introduces local kids to the game, but it is not as big as it once was with one or two teams per division.
Ontiveros says EC mayor Anthony Copeland implemented “Building Baseball Through Community” with participation from Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond and Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting.
“There was good participation of about 50 kids,” says Ontiveros. “We’re looking to continue that process.”
Helping Ontiveros in 2020 will be varsity assistant Frank Rosado (who has been with the program since 1986), junior varsity head coach Carlos Perez, JV assistant Juan Becerra and volunteer/pitching coach Jimmy Flores (who played at Noll).
“I’ll go until my body says I can’t go any more,” says Ontiveros.
Astros manager and NWIABL president Jeramy Ortiz is a former ECC coach.
After some time as an independent, East Chicago Central now competes as a member of the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (with Gary West Side, Hammond, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit and Hammond Morton).
In baseball, each GLAC team plays each other twice — home and away. In 2019, non-conference opponents included Boone Grove, Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Highland, Morgan Township, Munster, 21st Century Charter and Washington Township.
The Cardinals are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central, Merrillville and Munster. East Chicago Central, which opened in 1986-87 and replaced East Chicago Roosevelt and East Chicago Washington, has yet to win a sectional championship.
Two Washington graduates — pitcher Tim Stoddard and outfielder Kenny Lofton — played in the big leagues. Outfielder Jim Hicks, who played in the majors in 1965-66 and 1969-70, went to Roosevelt.
Kenny Lofton Field is located next to historic Block Stadium, a structure built in 1942 and home to many of the best ballplayers to come through the Region.
Many renovations have been made in recent years to a property owned and operated by the city, including a total revamping of the playing surface, moving in of the fences (it will be about 325 feet down the lines and 380 to center field) and new rest rooms, storage and a concession stand plus locker rooms, community center and a new scoreboard. The place has also gotten a fresh coat of paint.
“It’s night and day to what we used to play on,” says Ontiveros. “We were told it’s going to be ready for opening day.
“We have not played or practiced on that field in over two years.”
Another city facility — Kosciuszko Park — has been home to ECC baseball. Both Block and Kosciuszko are between 1.5 and 3 miles from campus, meaning a shuttle bus comes into play.
“It’s a challenge getting kids there for practice and getting them back,” says Ontiveros.
After high school, Ontiveros earned an associate degree from Ivy Tech and a bachelors degree from Purdue University Northwest. He had intended to go into education, but the Internet was just coming on the time. He is an IT operations manager at ECC, working with computer networks.
The coach maintains a website to keep fans and alumni up to date on Cardinals baseball.
ECC players going on to college programs in recent years include Gilbert Ibarra (Sauk Valley Community College), Erik Romo (Wabash College), Angelo Rosas-Badillo (College of Lake County), Adrian Alvarez (Sauk Valley), D’Angelo Gonzalez (University of Indianapolis), Reyes Maldonado (Sauk Valley and University of Saint Francis), Carlos Flores (South Suburban College) and Darion Edmond (South Suburban).
Jorge and Carmen Ontiveros recently celebrated eight years of marriage. The couple has two children — Jacqueline (6) and Andres (4). Both played T-ball this year. Jacqueline is to move on to softball in 2020.
Andres and Jacqueline Ontiveros — the children of Jorge and Carmen Ontiveros — enjoy playing in youth baseball and softball. Jorge Ontiveros is head baseball coach at East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School.
The Ontiveros family — Jorge, Carmen, Andres and Jacqueline.
Jorge Ontiveros plays in an adult baseball league tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He is on the Astros in the Northwest Indiana Adult Baseball League and is the head coach at East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School.
Jorge Ontiveros has been head baseball coach at his alma mater — East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School — since 2009.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” says Adam Musielak, head baseball coach at Whiting High since the 2016 season and part of the Oilers staff since 2015. “It’s got to be one of the best high school fields in the entire state.”
“They do amazing work,” says Musielak. “The kids that get to play on that don’t know how lucky they are. At most schools, you spend 20 minutes after the game or practice raking the field.”
Being so close to the water also means there’s a chill at many Whiting home games.
“It can be 45 degrees in Whiting and 70 degrees in other places,” says Musielak. “I always pack my cold gear no matter what the weather’s like.”
The Oilers are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bowman Academy, Gary Roosevelt, Hammond Bishop Noll, Lake Station Edison and River Forest. Whiting has won three sectionals — 2008, 2009 and 2010. The Oilers were in the championship game in 2017 and 2018.
Musielak welcomes back two players for 2019 that have been Whiting starters since they were freshmen — senior Nino Barbosa and junior Aidan Plemons.
Barbosa has played many positions and done some pitching. He paced the 2018 Oilers in most offensive categories.
Musielak says the three-sport standout could end up playing football, basketball or baseball at the college level.
Right-hander Plemons was Whiting’s No. 1 pitcher a year ago and hits in the heart of the lineup and also has college baseball aspirations.
Recent graduates moving on to college diamonds are right-hander Cody Bucsko (Calumet College of St. Joseph) and left-hander Ryan Veloz (South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill.).
Musielak’s coaching staff features Tim Mysliwy and volunteer Brad Johnson. A third assistant is being sought.
Mysliwy brings knowledge in player development. He has multiple drills for every situation.
“He’s someone I lean on big time,” says Musielak of Mysliwy. “Since we share our field with Calumet College, we must come up with unique practice ideas when we’re indoors.
“There are no wasted days. We’re getting work in no matter what we’re doing.”
Whiting (enrollment of about 430) has many multi-sport athletes that share facilities.
“We make do with what we’ve got and who we’ve got,” says Musielak. “Our goal is to always get them better.
“With the kids that are working hard, you can see the results.”
Musielak expects to keep 26 to 28 players for varsity and junior varsity schedules.
Traveling on smaller activity buses, the Oilers usually take 13 or 14 to road games with a few more at home games.
“We make sure every kid gets an opportunity to play once a week no matter the level,” says Musielak.
“It’s great competition,” says Musielak. “It helps us prepare for the postseason.”
Musielak is a 2008 graduate of Highland (Ind.) High School, where he played football and baseball for four years and basketball for three.
He was quarterback and team leader for the Spartans in football, playing for head coach Eric Miller.
“He’s someone I really look up to,” says Musielak of Miller. “He taught me how to be a young man and do the right thing. As simple as it sounds, that is something that has stuck with me to this day.
“He’s a great person.”
A pitcher, Musielak played on the diamond for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dan Miller and assistant John Bogner (now head baseball coach at Highland).
“He taught you what it meant to have a little toughness and some resiliency,” says Musielak of Dan Miller. “He gave us confidence
“He always believed we would win and that trickled down to the rest of us and we believed it.”
Musielak cherishes the opportunity to compete each spring against his alma mater and be welcomed home by mentor Bogner.
“He’s been good about walking me through the head coaching process,” says Musielak.
He was an assistant football coach for one season at Highland and is still part of the grid staff at Griffith High School, where Ben Geffert logged his fourth season as head coach this fall.
Musielak first coached basketball as a boys varsity assistant to former Oilers head coach Tim Hopps in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Kevin Lenz was the head baseball coach in Musielak’s first spring with the Oilers.
Musielak enjoyed the Japanese program at Highland and had considered teaching that language to high schoolers.
Instead, he graduated from Indiana University in 2013 and is now in his third year of instructing fifth graders at Ready Elementary in Griffith. His dog is named “Hoosier” and he enjoys rooting for IU’s sports teams.
Adam is the third child of Paul and Joyce Musielak, who both work at Siemer Heating & Cooling in Highland. Older brother Paul Musielak owns Gem Homes in Indianapolis and his younger sister Christina Musielak teaches special education in Crown Point, Ind. Adam is two years younger than Paul and two years older than Christina.
“Dad likes to say he’s been in every home in The Region,” says Musielak. “He taught me how to throw a football and a baseball. When I took pitching lessons, he was my personal catcher.”
A paraprofessional when Adam and his siblings were in school, he credits his mother for instilling an appreciation for education. She was at every game and organized team meals.
Adam and Paul were competitive while growing up.
“He showed me how to gain some toughness,” says Musielak. “My sister played a couple of sports when she was younger. She was the water girl/manager for the football team.
He marvels at what she does as a teacher.
“I’ve never met anybody that has such a heart of gold,” says Musielak.
Two Whiting graduates played in the majors — outfielder Al Pilarcik (1956-61 with the Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox) and infielder Larry Fritz (one game with the 1975 Philadelphia Phillies). Pilarcik is an IHSBCA Hall of Famer.
Adam Musielak, a Highland (Ind.) High School and Indiana University graduate, is head baseball coach at Whiting (Ind.) High School and an assistant football coach at Griffith (Ind.) High School. He is also a fan of the Chicago Bears.
Adam Musielak has been part of the Whiting (Ind.) High School baseball coaching staff since 2015. He heads into his fourth season as head coach in 2019.
Growing up, Enright played at Edison Little League/Babe Ruth League in Hammond, Ind., followed by four summers of travel baseball with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Chiefs).
After playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan at Munster, Enright took to the diamond at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. (2008-09) for National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve Ruzich and the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville (2010-11) for two-time national champion Tracy Archuleta.
Enright was an NJCAA All-American at South Suburban, hitting .446 with five home runs, 17 doubles and 46 runs batted in. At USI, he started every game for the 2010 NCAA Division II national champions. He also started 55 contests in 2011, helping the Screaming Eagles to a fourth straight Great Lakes Valley Conference championship.
Enright holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Southern Indiana and a Master’s of Arts in coaching from Greenville (Ill.) University.
He also spent seven summers with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen (2012-18) — the last four as manager. The Whiting-based team also won the league title in 2016.
During his time as a coach, Enright has learned the importance of being organized.
“Things can get pretty hectic,” says Enright, 29. “The qualities that I bring to this job as a head coach are thoroughness and the ability to put ideas together.
“I have to make sure things are spelled out and clearly communicated.”
At NCAA Division I Chicago State, Enright worked with Cougars head coach and Hammond (Ind.) High School graduate Michael Caston.
“He was a relationships guy,” says Enright of Caston. “Things were tougher for us and wins were hard to come by. He kept the players in a positive state of mind. He kept everybody’s spirits high and kept things enjoyable.
“He played a lot of really quality schools (during non-conference play).”
Enright’s stint at D-I Arkansas-Little Rock gave him the opportunity to serve on the staff of Trojans head coach Scott Norwood.
“He was a structured, disciplined type of coach,” says Enright of Norwood. “He would make sure everybody was motivated to buy into the program’s philosophy.
“Assistant coaches were allowed a lot of freedom when it came to developing players.”
At NAIA Trinity, Enright worked on a Trolls staff headed by Justin Huisman (who is also a former Oilmen manager) and learned that administrative duties make up a large portion of a head coach’s job.
“I got to really concentrate on baseball a lot,” says Enright. “(Huisman) was very good at the administrative side. He was very organized, a very good planner and very good at keeping players in the know.”
It was in Palos Heights that Enright met the woman that he would marry. Adam and Kimmy Enright were wed in December 2017.
Enright’s top assistant at Missouri Valley — Matt Dwyer — is back for his seventh season in 2019. Dwyer is familiar with both the coaching and administrative sides.
“We tackle things together,” says Enright of Dwyer. “That frees us up to do more baseball.”
“There’s a a lot of instruction and breaking the game down,” says Enright. “It’s a lot more teaching and talking than playing games.”
NAIA rules allow baseball activities for 24 weeks and the Vikings will work six days a week for six weeks in the fall until mid-October and then 18 leading into and including the spring season. The season opener is scheduled for Feb. 8 at Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge, Ark., with the home opener Feb. 22 against conference opponent Northwestern College.
MVC is part of the 13-member Heart of America Athletic Conference. Teams will play 31 conference games — three each against divisional opponents and two apiece against cross-divisional foes. Division series are usually played on weekends with one nine-inning single game and a doubleheader. Cross-divisional games tend to be weekday doubleheaders.
Enright learned of the opening at Missouri Valley through the American Baseball Coaches Association job board. He attended the annual ABCA Convention when it was in Indianapolis last January.
“It’s something near and dear to my heart,” says Enright. “I try to go as often as I can.
“It’s always worth going. You’re always able to pick up something new, see familiar faces and meet new ones.”
The 2019 ABCA Convention is slated for Jan. 3-6 in Dallas.
Adam Enright, a Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate and former Northwest Oilmen manager, is the new head baseball coach at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo. (Missouri Valley College Photo)
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.
“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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
In 13 seasons in Poseyville — 12 as head coach — Swartzentruber experienced plenty of winning. The Vikings were an IHSAA Class 2A state semifinalist in 2000 and won back-to-back 2A state titles in 2005 and 2006.
The second championship came against Hammond Bishop Noll, then coached by Dave Griffin. Flash forward to the present and his son, David Griffin, is a junior pitcher for Swartzentruber at Lake Central.
“I learned a lot there,” says Swartzentruber of his time with Artesians. “It humbled me a little. All coaches have egos.
“We had a couple decent years mixed in, but we struggled.”
He stepped away in his eighth year at the school and contemplated his future.
“I had a lot of time to reflect and realized how much I wanted to get back into it,” says Swartzentruber. He landed interviews at McCutcheon and Lake Central.
“My wife (Misty) was real supportive,” says Swartzentruber. “She told me to make sure it is a place you want to be at. To use a baseball term, make it was a ‘home run.’”
The Swartzentrubers (Mike, Misty, son Griffen and daughter Ryan) were on a Florida vacation in the summer of 2016 when Mike was called and offered the LC job. He accepted on the spot and soon packed up the crew again and headed to Lake County.
Mike Swartzentruber is now in his second season at the school of more than 3,000 students in St. John.
“We’ve enjoyed it up here,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s the hardest job I’ve had in terms of expectation and the number of kids in the program. We had about 100 kids at workouts in the off-season (and there are now 54 players for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams). “But I want to be in a situation where baseball is taken seriously and is a priority.”
Griffen Swartzentruber is a freshman who played for the Indians’ sectional champion boys tennis team in the fall.
Ryan Swartzentruber is a seventh grader who enjoys volleyball and tennis.
Mike was familiar with the LC program since the Indians had come south four years in a row when Todd Iwema was head coach.
With a number of P.O.’s (pitcher-onlys), injuries and early JV call-ups, Swartzentruber has a 23-man varsity squad.
“Everybody who coaches thinks I’m absolutely off my rocker,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s not easy to navigate. There are guys who wish they were playing more. Many times the first time they start are as seniors. With the depth we have, you don’t see a lot of two- or three-year varsity starters.
“I’m still learning. We’ve got good kids. They work hard and are coachable kids.
“We mix and match kids (in a kind of platoon system).”
Pitching has long been a plus at Lake Central. The 2016 team set a national record with 16 shutouts. The last two years, the team earned run average has been at over below 2.00.
“Our pitching staff has been off the charts,” says Swartzentruber. “Any guy we’ve thrown out there has thrown zero after zero.”
“He’s a young pitching coach does a real good job,” says Swartzentruber of Weinmann. “I’m more old school and he’s more new school. The results are there.”
Jay Jones, who went through the ranks with John Mallee (former Chicago Cubs hitting coach who holds that title with the Philadelphia Phillies), instructs Lake Central hitters.
“Jay knows his stuff,” says Swartzentruber.
John Novosel, a baseball veteran who has helped at Griffith and coaches with the Morris Chiefs in the summer, rounds out the varsity staff. Brian McNamara is the junior varsity coach and Jeff Myzak leads the freshmen.
Lake Central plays on an all-turf field with generous dimensions, similar to those of Victory Field in Indianapolis. In Swartzentruber’s two seasons, only one LC player has hit a home run there and only one visitor has cleared the fence in four seasons and that was Chesterton senior Tommy Benson when he socked one to left field last Tuesday, May 15.
Growing up, Swartzentruber’s coach was father Dennis.
“I’ve always been a listen more than I talk guy,” says Mike Swartzentruber. “I’ve picked up stuff from everybody I’ve ever been in contact with.
“My biggest influence is my dad.”
Dennis and Patsy Swartzentruber have two children — daughter Michelle (Heacock) and son Mike.
Steve Walker was Mike Swartzentruber’s baseball coach with the Washington Hatchets.
“We enjoyed playing for him,” says Swartzentruber. “My class was always pretty successful in baseball.
“Jasper beat us in the regional in my senior year.”
At Oakland City, Swartzentruber played for Phil Glover and then Les Hayes and changed his major to education then set off on his teaching and coaching career.
After stints at North Posey, where he won two IHSAA state championships, and Martinsville, Mike Swartzentruber is in his second season as head baseball coach at Lake Central High School in 2018.