Tag Archives: Steve Sotir

Byall, Homestead Spartans value preparation

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Potter and Steve Sotir emphasized the fundamental parts of baseball — making the routine play on defense, pounding the strike zone from the mound and following an approach from the batter’s box — as head baseball coaches at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Nick Byall, who played for Potter and coached with Potter and Sotir, is carrying on the tradition while adding his own spin as the man in charge of the Spartans.

“We want to be polished and prepared each day,” says Byall. “When you’re doing (the fundamentals) well it makes the game even more fun.

“At the high school level, we can be really successful doing that.”

Byall, a 2000 Homestead graduate, spent 10 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater (two on Potter’s staff and eight with Sotir) and is in his fourth season as head coach in 2019.

Being competitive is also important to Byall.

“We’re always looking to compete — in a drill or a game,” says Byall, who heads up a program with around 50 players for varsity, junior varsity (JV Blue) and freshmen (JV Gold) schedules.

“We have a smaller senior class and kept a larger freshmen class,” says Byall. “We have 18 on the varsity roster most of the time. Some guys will swing between varsity and JV.”

The coaching staff features Shawn Harkness plus volunteers Josh Brock, Maurie Byall (Nick’s father) and Greg Wehling with the varsity, Austin Plasterer and Kyle Plasterer with JV Blue and Brian Landigran and Dominic Schroeder with JV Gold.

Harkness is pitching coach for the Spartan. He was a JV coach when Byall was a Homestead player.

Brock played and coached at Manchester University.

It’s more than the game that keeps Byall around baseball.

“I want to be a decent role model for (the players),” says Byall. “That’s why we do it.

“I enjoy the kids and the coaches I work with. If not, I wouldn’t do it.”

Homestead plays its varsity games on its campus with the JV teams playing on that diamond or at a field near Summit Middle School.

Marching band is a big deal at the school and the band has its own turf practice surface near the baseball field. The baseball team sometimes uses it when it’s facility is too wet.

There is no middle school baseball at Homestead, but many players participate in travel ball.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who enjoy baseball,” says Byall. “They’re pretty fundamentally sound.”

Senior Kade Kolpien has committed to Taylor University. Senior Will Ferguson has garnered some college baseball interest. Junior Eli MacDonald and sophomore Kaleb Kolpien and Carter Mathison are among younger Spartans getting college looks.

Recent Homestead graduates now with college programs include Justin Miller at Purdue Fort Wayne, Isaac Bair at the University of Indianapolis and Nick Davit and D.J. Moore at Huntington University.

Catcher Rob Bowen was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his big league debut with the Twins in 2003. He also played for the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Infielder Andre Jernigan went from Homestead to the Xavier University to the Twins organization.

Right-handed pitcher Taylor Kinzer played at Taylor then in the Los Angeles Angels organization.

Second baseman Ryan Wright played at he University of Louisville and in the Cincinnati Reds system from 2011-15.

Catcher Matt Singleton played at Ball State University and in the Athletics chain.

Outfielder Bobby Glover was a Parkland College, the University of Dayton and with the independent Windy City Thunderbolts (2012).

Left-hander Kyle Leiendecker went to Indiana University.

It’s IU and the allure of Hoosiers basketball that brought Byall to Bloomington.

He was a basketball manager for four years and got to see in the inner workings of big-time college sports and went to the 2002 NCAA tournament championship game with head coach Mike Davis. Byall’s first week on campus was Bob Knight’s last.

Byall earned an education degree from Indiana in 2005 and a masters in business administration from Taylor in 2010. He teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics and U.S. Government at HHS.

Homestead (enrollment around 2,430) has charted a schedule that features Bellmont, DeKalb, Evansville Central, Fishers, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis Cathedral, Mississinewa, Norwell, Wapahani and Warsaw.

For several years, Homestead has made a southern trip during spring break.

“It’s a chance to get away and bond a little bit,” says Byall.

The destination the past few seasons has been Vincennes, Ind. Treks have also been made to Terre Haute, Evansville, Cincinnati and Knoxville, Tenn.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Huntington North. Homestead has won 14 sectionals — the last in 2016. A 4A state runner-up finish was earned in 2008.

Byall is single and lives in the Homestead district.

“I’m real close with my family,” says Byall, the son of Maurie and Rosi Byall and younger brother of Troy Byall. His father owns Byall Homes, Inc., and has been building houses for 40 years. His mother is the Homestead treasurer and also the statistician for her son’s baseball team.

With three children, chiropractor Dr. Troy and wife Erica Byall have made Nick a proud uncle.

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Homestead High School baseball coach Nick Byall (left) slaps hands with Kade Kolpien. Byall is in his 14th season as a Spartans coach — fourth as head coach — while Kolpien is in his senior season in 2019.

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Nick Byall is head baseball coach at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. He is a 2000 graduate of the school. (Homestead High School Photo)

 

 

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Gameday mentality fuels Frame-coached Huntington U. Foresters

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Huntington (Ind.) University baseball team can’t control the wintry weather and the fact that they have to do almost all of their practicing indoors so far in 2019.

But the Foresters won’t use that as an alibi.

Mike Frame, who is in his 35th season as HU head coach, won’t let that happen.

“We’re not going to use it as an excuse,” says Frame, who has had his players working out inside the Merillat Complex fieldhouse when it’s been too cold or wet to use Forest Glen Park. “It’s the hand that we’ve been dealt so we have to make the most of it.”

Years ago, Frame and close friend Tom Roy (who is now co-head coach at Grace College) came up with ACE. The acronym stands for Attitude, Concentration, Effort. It’s something the student-athletes can control everyday.

“For me, it goes beyond playing baseball,” says Frame, a member of the Huntington University Athletics, Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Northeast Indiana Baseball Association halls of fame. “We talk to these young men from the time we recruit them that attitude, concentration and effort is something take you with you when you leave. Someday you’re going to be an employee and the employer is going to want somebody with a great attitude, great concentration and great effort.

“Someday there’s going to be a young lady that would like to have a husband with those qualities and a little boy or little girl that would like to have a father with those qualities.

“Let’s control the things that we can control.”

The Foresters’ schedule called for first 20 road games to be played on the road.

Of that number, a dozen were contested and Huntington split them, including one win against NAIA No. 19-ranked University of the Cumberlands and two against No. 22 Taylor University. The home opener against Spring Arbor University was moved to the turf at Logansport High School, where a 6-5 win was achieved for 7-6 start to the campaign.

“We have to prepare to go out and play right away against really good competition,” says Frame. “We have to make sure what we do in (the fieldhouse) translates outside whether we’ve been on the field or not.”

Practices are conducted at a high tempo.

“We have to have a gameday mentality in all that we do,” says Frame. “That’s one of the reasons we practice with uniforms on, guys hit with helmets on.”

Because Frame believes baseball was not meant to be played indoors, player earn their positions in the fall. He does not play favorites.

“The best player is going to play.,” says Frame “What year you are in school doesn’t matter.”

What makes Crossroads League baseball so strong?

“There’s some stability at the top in terms of coaching,” says Frame, noting his own longevity and that of Mount Vernon Nazarene’s Keith Veale (30th season) and Taylor’s Kyle Gould (15th season). “Those coaches are working at it.”

Frame says the league is made up of similar schools in terms of resources, scholarship money and the like. Member schools tend to be faith-based with a strong focus on academics.

“We have to ask how they can handle things at a Christian school and academically before we ever look at (athletic) ability,” says Frame.

HU pitching coach Brian Abbott is in his second go-around at Huntington after a stint at league member Indiana Wesleyan.

“It’s a very competitive league,” says Abbott. “These teams compete at a very high level.”

The league has produced professional players and former IWU pitcher Brandon Beachy made it all the way to the big leagues.

Former Huntington player Dalton Combs spent the past two seasons as an outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization.

“You can get to professional baseball from a small school,” says Abbott, who is also executive director of the IHSBCA. “It might be a little easier as a pitcher. A position player needs to be outside with the at-bats and the ground balls that are harder (to come by) in this weather.”

The winner of the Crossroads League regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament will receive automatic bids to the NAIA Opening Round. If the winner of the regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament are the same team, the second place team from the tournament will be awarded the second automatic bid.

Senior outfielder Donovan Clark (Fort Wayne South Side High School graduate), senior right-handed pitcher D.J. Moore (Homestead), senior first baseman/designated hitter Adam Roser (Northfield), junior right-hander Mason Shinabery (Bellmont), junior left-hander Alex McCutcheon (Huntington North) are part of the current Huntington mix.

All come together for a common cause but with a different perspective.

Clark, who played high school baseball for head coach Sheldon Van Pelt, was on the football team at Indiana University before a back injury ended his career in that sport. With friends Will Coursen-Carr and Tyler Zimske playing baseball at Huntington, he decided to switch his focus to the diamond.

What is the difference between NCAA Division I football and NAIA baseball?

“Baseball — in general — is more mental,” says Clark, who went from defensive back to center fielder. “In football, if you don’t have a tackle, interception or impact the game in some way, you’re not considered the best player on the field.”

The Forester Way has a familiar feel to Clark, who is scheduled to graduate this spring with a business marketing degree.

“It’s a small school,” says Clark. “But the program here goes about things in a big school way. We have a strength coach (Scott Craft).”

With all the indoor workouts, Clark has been getting some reps with the infielders to stay busy and learn something new.

“It’s difficult to come inside and go outside and play a game,” says Clark. “But we’ve done a good job of adapting to it. I’m proud of the team.”

Moore, who played at Homestead for Steve Sotir, has noticed the change between high school and college baseball.

“There’s a big difference,” says Moore. “For one, the game speeds up tremendously. Everybody becomes bigger and stronger. Everybody has better eyes at the plate. When you first come in, you’re facing guys who are three or four years older than you.

“The biggest thing is execution and knowing I can’t just throw the ball over the plate without a purpose like I did in high school. I have to actually hit my spots and have a plan.”

The Crossroads League provides a challenge from top to bottom.

“You never know what’s going to happen in this league,” says Moore. “You’ll have ranked team. You’ll have teams receiving votes. You’ll have teams not even close to receiving votes that will still find a way to win. Any team can come out to play and win. There’s not any dominant team in this whole league.”

Moore has learned how to balance academics and athletics.

“It’s a difficult process, but it’s bearable,” says Moore. “It’s about getting your studies done before practice and keeping in-touch with professors. They understand how busy we are in the spring.”

Moore, a sport management major, says Frame encourages his players to take a heavier course load in the fall, maybe 16 or 17 hours and 12 in the spring with as many morning classes as possible.

Tradition attracted more to Huntington.

“Coach knows what he’s doing,” says Moore. “He’s coached here more than half his life. He’s got a great attitude about things and makes us work hard.”

Roser appreciates the approach and the time spent before practices working  ACE attributes.

“We go over Bible verses and examples of how we can be better with our attitude, concentration and effort,” says Roser. “In baseball, the best team doesn’t always win.

“If you have the right attitude and concentration and you put forth the effort, you can beat a good team no matter what kind of talent they have.”

College baseball requires a great time commitment. But Roser, who played for Tony Uggen at Northfield, knew that when he was being recruited.

“It takes awhile for people to adapt to this kind of culture with how much time we put into baseball and studying,” says Roser. “It’s like a 24-hour job almost.

“Coach Frame does a pretty good job of explaining to us what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Roser is slated to graduate this spring with a sports management degree.

Shinabery also played another position while at Bellmont, but is a pitcher-only for the Foresters. While he came out of the bullpen last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers, he’s been used as a starter for Huntington.

“I have a routine,” says Shinabery. “I know when I’m going to pitch. I just make sure I’m ready to go that day.”

Having support is helpful for the pitching staff.

“Coach Abbott and Coach Frame have faith that all our pitchers can do it,” says Shinabery. “In certain situations, they don’t care who comes in. We can all throw strikes and get the job done

“Just them believing in us helps out me and our staff a lot.”

McCutcheon played his high school baseball in the same town, but began his collegiate career at Vincennes University. After a season, he transferred to Huntington and enjoys the baseball atmosphere.

“Coach Frame sets up the mentality the program has,” says McCutcheon. “We’re a blue collar team. We work hard. Coach Frame encourages toughness in everything. He makes us do things the right way.

“That’s what separates us.”

Assistant coach Thad Frame (Mike’s son) keeps practices humming by constantly reminding players at a swift pace. NAIA game rules call for 20 seconds between pitches and two minutes of warm-up between innings.

“When we pitch, Coach has a timer,” says McCutcheon. “We make sure we are always uptempo.

“Thad wants us to get out on the field as fast as we can. If the hitter is just casually putting his gloves on and we can get him off-guard. That’s an advantage for us if he’s not fully prepared.”

McCutcheon says he knows that two things important to Mike Frame are hustling and being mentally-prepared.

Each day after stretching, players are led through visualization.

“Coach Frame has us lay down for a minute or so and clear out everything,” says McCutcheon. “You see yourself walk everything you’re thinking about out the door and get ready for practice.

“He wants our mindsets to be there everyday. That’s the most important thing for him.”

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Mike Frame is head baseball coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Brian Abbott is baseball pitching coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Donovan Clark is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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D.J. Moore is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Adam Roser is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Mason Shinabery is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Alex McCutcheon is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Former Homestead, IPFW pitcher Weaver briefly with Gary, goes back to Florence

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chuck Weaver went undrafted by Major League Baseball at the close of his college career.

But the 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher did not let that keep him from becoming a professional.

Weaver, who toed the rubber for Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Taylor University in Upland, Ind., Vincennes University and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, earned his first paycheck for pitching with the Florence (Ky.) Freedom in the independent Frontier League in 2013. He was an FL All-Star in 2014.

Appearing in 49 games (45 as a starter) with 17 victories, he was with Florence until August of 2015.

That’s when he signed with the Miami Marlins organization and hurled 22 innings with 19 strikeouts and three walks with short-season Batavia.

In 2016, Weaver went 9-5 with Low Class-A Greensboro. He fanned 72 and walked just 10 in 83 innings. His WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) was 1.04.

But he also hurt his elbow. Weaver underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery Oct. 25, 2016 and missed the entire 2017 season.

Weaver worked hard on getting back. He went to 2018 spring training with the Marlins only to be released a few weeks later.

He had played at Homestead for coach Steve Sotir with one season each at Taylor for Kyle Gould and at Vincennes for Chris Barney and two at IPFW for Bobby Pierce.

After his released, the Fort Wayne head coach welcomed Weaver to practice when he asked to throw to Mastodons catchers.

“I still stay in touch with Bobby all the time,” says Weaver of Pierce. “He’s a great guy.”

Florence still held Weaver’s contract and could have returned to the Freedom, but wanted to try his luck in the independent American Association.

“I’m a big family guy,” says Weaver, 27. “I wanted my mom to come watch and support. I feel like this is the best fit of all the teams in the American Association.”

Chuck’s mother and stepfather — Susan Abbott and Rod Abbott — as well as stepbrothers — Ryan Abbott and Ray Abbott — are all in the Fort Wayne area. They’re about 150 miles from Gary.

So Florence manager Dennis Pelfrey, who coached four seasons for Gary SouthShore RailCats manager Greg Tagert, recommended Weaver to the AA club based in northwest Indiana.

Weaver made his first start for Gary — a no-decision — Sunday, May 20 at U.S. Steel Yard.

He goes to the mound with a fastball, change-up and slider.

The majority of his fastballs are of the two-seam variety. However, he does have a four-seamer.

When he was making his way back from surgery with the Marlins, Weaver was reunited with former Florence pitching coach Chad Rhoades.

Rhoades, who pitched for Gary in 2012, coached pitchers at short-season Batavia in 2016 and later served as Marlins rehab pitching coordinator. In the latter role, he helped Weaver add a four-seam heater to his repertoire.

On May 31, the RailCats announced they had traded Weaver to Florence.

Like the majority of players in independent baseball, Weaver is looking to showcase himself for MLB-affiliated teams.

He explained the dynamic.

“You see more of a drive for the game and more desire to play (in indy ball),” says Weaver. “In affiliated, I feel a lot of the guys took it serious but not as serious as the guys here.

“It was more individualized in affiliated and it’s more (team-oriented) here. People are helping each other.”

While developing in an affiliated system, players may spend a lot of time working on one particular element of their game and teams are not focused as much on winning as getting the player up the chain toward the big league team.

“Guys would go out there and throw only fastballs because they had to work on fastball command,” says Weaver of affiliated ball. “Here, you’re trying to get that shot. You want to showcase all your stuff.

What does Weaver see as his strengths?

“I’m a real hard worker,” says Weaver. “I wasn’t drafted, but I felt like a pushed my way (to affiliated baseball). I have to continue to push myself.

“Even if I’m tired after a long bus ride, I have to take it serious and get my work in. I can’t be lazy about it.

“It’s my job.”

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Chuck Weaver, a Homestead High School graduate who also pitched for Taylor University, Vincennes University, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and in the Miami Marlins organization among others, is now with the Gary SouthShore RailCats. (Gary SouthShore RailCats Photo)

 

Homestead graduate Jernigan enjoying experience as second-year pro

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andre Jernigan grew up in Fort Wayne watching young baseball players chase their professional dreams in the Midwest League.

Jernigan, 23, is now doing the same as an infielder with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

A Homestead High School graduate in 2012 and Louisville Slugger All-American at Xavier University in 2016, Jernigan was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the ’16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after being named Big East Conference Player of the Year.

At spring training this year, Jernigan enjoyed picking the brains of former Minnesota Twins who were Fort Wayne Wizards coming through the minors — LaTroy Hawkins (with Fort Wayne in 1993) and Torii Hunter (1994).

“It’s incredible to play on the same fields and in the same league as them,” says Jernigan, who played 36 games for Elizabethton (Rookie-level Appalachian League) after the draft and four contests for the E-Twins in ’17 before being assigned to Cedar Rapids June 29.

“We’re lucky to come out here and just play,” says Jernigan. “I just like to take it day by day and enjoy the experience. It’s that fun and excitement you had when you were a kid that made you want to become a professional baseball player.

“It’s very easy once you get out there to lose sight of that. You start to think of it as a job. My main goal is to come out and learn something new and get better each and everyday.”

Playing so many games, pro baseball can become a mental and physical grind. But Jernigan chooses not to see it that way.

“You don’t think I have to play today, I get to play today,” says Jernigan. “It’s really just a blessing to be out here.”

Jernigan grew up playing shortstop and accept for being moved to third base by then-Homestead head coach Steve Sotir during his sophomore year, he was an everyday shortstop until he became a pro. The Twins have used him at second base, third base, shortstop and even one game at catcher.

“A ground ball’s a ground ball though the ball gets too you faster at third base,” says Jernigan. “The Twins talk about (playing multiple positions). I’ve always been told the more versatile you are, teams can get you more playing time.”

Jernigan is thankful for a foundation laid by Sotir, who now works at The Base in El Paso, Texas, and current Homestead head coach Nick Byall.

“They run a great program,” says Jernigan of Sotir and Byall. “I look back on the drills and some of the things we did. I can’t thank them enough with helping me with my development.”

Scott Googins, who became head coach at the University of Cincinnati after the ’17 season, was head coach at Xavier during Jernigan’s days as a Musketeer.

“Coach Googins made sure that we put together a tough schedule and faced the Vanderbilts and the Arizona States and some high-power arms,” says Jernigan. “Playing those teams in those series definitely helped in the sense that I’ve seen the velocity and the breaking balls.

“I seen some of that electric stuff. The biggest thing (in the minors), everyone you face now is a Friday night guy.”

The key is to hit the pitcher’s mistakes.

“I want to find a pitch and drive it,” says Jernigan. “You must be ready for the fastball at all times. You can adjust to the off-speed after that.”

Andre was born to Frankie and Stacey Jernigan in Muncie and the family landed in Fort Wayne around the time Andre was starting school.

Frankie Jernigan graduated from Muncie Central High School and earned a baseball letter at the University of Nebraska (1989). He passed along his knowledge and love of the game to sons Andre and Austin (who played baseball at Homestead and is now a senior student at Ball State University).

“I can’t thank him enough for all those days when he threw us BP and hit us ground balls,” says Andre of his father.

Andre played travel in younger days with the Mavericks and then with the Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).

In one of those small world phenomenons, The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy owner/senior baseball instructor and director of player development Manny Lopez was a minor league teammate of Ramon Borrego when both played in the Twins organization. Borrego is now manager of the Gulf Coast League Twins.

Jernigan graduated from Xavier with a degree in finance.

“I’ve always been good with numbers,” says Jernigan. “It’s one of those things that I find interesting.”

Another interesting family connection is former NBA standout Bonzi Wells. He is connected in Andre’s mother’s side.

Wells shined on the hardwood at Muncie Central and Ball State and then played with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets before stints in China and Puerto Rico.

At 40, Wells now plays in the new BIG3 pro 3-on-3 league.

Jernigan says Wells recently talked with youngsters at Muncie Central.

“He has that inner drive that keeps you going,” says Jernigan.

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Andre Jernigan, a graduate of Homestead High School and Xavier University, is in the Minnesota Twins organization with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. (Steve Krah Photo)