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.
Tutterow Field is the varsity baseball diamond at Martinsville (Ind.) High School. It is named for late Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Tutterow, who led the Artesians for 39 years through 2008. Second-year Martinsville head coach Adam Peterson says getting to play there has to be earned. “In order to be on the that field you’ve got to take care of business in the classroom,” says Peterson, who is also assistant principal at John R. Wooden Middle School in Martinsville. “That’s our first emphasis before we even get to the baseball part.” MHS students are on a trimester schedule. “It’s also about being good citizens and teammates and taking care of each other. Even if you’re not the best player on the team, you still have something to give.” Peterson also wants his student-athletes to improve each day and have fun while they’re doing it. “Winning is fun,” says Peterson. “But it’s the idea of being around their friends and relishing those experiences. The season is a grind with practices and games. We want to mix it up, keep the kids on their toes and keep it fresh.” Peterson, who was a middle infielder in high school then played almost all the positions in college, encourages his players to be be versatile. “It gives you more of an opportunity to be in the lineup everyday,” says Peterson. In 2021, Martinsville had just over 30 players in the program at the end of the season for varsity and junior varsity games. At a preliminary meeting this fall, 46 showed up to show their baseball interest. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period ended Oct. 16. Twice a week, 10 to 13 athletes met twice a week for baseball activities (many others were in fall sports). Baseball players continue to lift weights twice a week with Martinsville head strength & conditioning coach Ethan Breach. Tutterow Field is behind a new fieldhouse. The grand opening for the facility which his plenty of rubberized floor space and batting cages was Oct. 8. Assistant coaches for 2022 are expected to be Martinsville alums Steve Bunton, Layne Bayird and Gary Brittain. The Artesians had one senior in 2021 — Braxton Wilson. The right-handed pitcher signed at Purdue Fort Wayne. Right-hander Brandon Dodson (Class of 2020) landed at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill. Verbal commitments to the University of Evansville have been made by catcher/shortstop Andrew Payton (Class of 2022) and left-hander/outfielder Kevin Reed (Class of 2023). Last spring, Martinsville had junior high baseball. Seventh and eighth grade teams not affiliated with the school played against conference teams. In 2022, the school system hopes to sponsor the program. Peterson joined Martinsville schools in 2016-17 and was a baseball assistant to Jeff Scott for two seasons (2017-18). The Artesians won a sectional title in 2017. Martinsville (enrollment around 1,300) is a member of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Mooresville, Perry Meridian, Plainfield and Whiteland Community). In 2021, the Artesians were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Center Grove, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Mooresville and Whiteland Community. Martinsville has won 15 sectional titles — the last in 2019. Before Martinsville, Peterson spent a year as assistant principal at Indiana Math & Science Academy, a charter school in Indianapolis. Prior to that, Peterson was at Rio Rancho (N.M.) High School for nine years, where he was head assistant for four seasons then a volunteer while he and wife Donna started their family. Rio Rancho head coach Ron Murphy is the all-time wins leader in New Mexico high school baseball history. The Murphy-coached Rams won Class 5A state titles in 2007 and 2009 and he is in the New Mexico Baseball Coaches Association and New Mexico Sports halls of fame. “He’s a fun guy,” says Peterson of Murphy, who built the Rio Rancho program from scratch. “He’s originally from Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s got some good stories.” Before New Mexico, Peterson taught on an Indian reservation in Hayes Lodge Pole, Mont. That’s where he met his future wife. When the New Jersey native applied to the University of New Mexico for her doctorate in History, that’s where the couple landed. The Petersons ended up in Indiana when Donna Peterson went to work at Indiana University and she is now teaching Ivy Tech History courses at Martinsville High. Before Montana, Adam taught and coached in the Superior, Wis./Duluth, Minn., area. Peterson graduated from Superior High School in 1999. He played four years of baseball – three varsity — for Spartans head coach Steve Fregin. At the University of Wisconsin-Superior, Peterson was a four-year starter for Yellowjackets head coach Jim Stukel. Adam and Donna’s three children are daughter Emma (12), Caleb (almost 10) and daughter Blair (5).
As Ball State University develops baseball pitchers, one approach does not fit all. Each individual is assessed and brought along while keeping in mind what is best for them. “We’re not making a broad stroke,” says Larry Scully, the Cardinals pitching coach since August 2019. “Everyone is different in terms of their needs.” Scully, who began his coaching career in 1992 and has mentored 16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections, uses the example of a freshman arriving on the Muncie, Ind., campus in the fall. That hurler is introduced to Bill Zenisek, Ball State’s baseball strength & conditioning coach. “He gets a measurement of movement for all the players,” says Scully. From this evaluation, which includes a TPI movement screening, specific exercises are prescribed that will help them become an efficient athlete. Players are introduced to proper nutrition and the weight room and learn that terminology. Rapsodo equipment is used during bullpen sessions and the motion-capture data is used for development as is Synergy slow-motion camera feedback. Then there’s the throwing program. “We get to see how the arm moves,” says Scully. As a part of that there is long toss. Some will go long and high and up to 300 feet the day after they throw and others will focus on mechanics and toss on a line for distance. Through it all, a pitcher’s delivery is checked for efficiency. How does he start? How does he drive down the mound? How does he finish? Since Scully is Driveline-certified, the Cardinals will use bands, PlyoCare Balls and mediBalls in training. Bullpen sessions may be geared toward refining a certain pitch or location. A pitcher’s workload — heavy or light in terms of innings or the number or intensity pitches — will also play into training. Fall ball began at Ball State the first week of September and just recently concluded. Pitchers worked alone the first two weeks and were then incorporated into team practices and scrimmages. Then adjustments were made during individual work. Until Dec. 3, pitchers will work eight hours a week, including strength sessions and 45 minutes a day Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays with their pitching coach. “We’ll try to maintain what they do well and get better to help us win,” says Scully. Before coming to Ball State, Scully spent five seasons at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where he worked with Braves head coach Elvis Dominguez. “We were one of the top academic schools in the Missouri Valley Conference,” says Scully, who also served as Bradley’s recruiting coordinator. the 2019 Braves led the MVC in earned run average (3.37), fewest hits allowed per game (7.21) and WHIP (1.27). What drew Scully to the Cardinals? “Ball State has a rich tradition in winning and developing pitchers,” says Scully. At BSU, Scully joined head coach Rich Maloney, who became the 27th active NCAA Division I coach to earn his 800th career coaching win in 2019. To date, Maloney is 877-581-1 (546-337-1 in his second stint with Ball State) in 26 seasons. He has coached 65 players who were drafted 72 times. He’s coached six first-rounders with only one being drafted out of high school. The most-recent is right-hander Drey Jameson (34th overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019). Maloney paid Scully a compliment during the interview process. “Everywhere you’ve been the pitching staff has gotten a bump,” says Scully of Maloney’s words. The 2021 MLB Draft was very satisfying for Scully. Three pitchers who the coach helped hone his craft were taken in the first seven rounds — Ball State’s Chayce McDermott (fourth round by the Houston Astros) and Bradley’s Brooks Gosswein (fourth round by the Chicago White Sox) and Theron Denlinger (seventh round by the White Sox). When looking at pitching potential, Ball State recruiting coordinator Blake Beemer is often drawn to athletes of a certain build. “They are long and lean with loose arm action,” says Scully. “Others might not be that, but they may be left-handed and can get left-handers out. “Blake does a good job of finding low-lying fruit. Here’s something we can probably fix (about the pitcher’s mechanics or pitch selection). “There’s a lot of moving parts. Everyone sees the final product, but there’s a lot of work that goes into it.” Prior to Bradley, Scully was pitching coach at Murray (Ky.) State University (2014), Lamar (Colo.) Community College (2010-13), assistant at Saint Louis University (2007), head coach at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. (2000-06) and assistant at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa (1999) and Indiana Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa (1992-96). Dan Skirka was a Murray State assistant when Scully was there and is now the Racers head coach. Scully was born in Toronto and played at York Memorial Collegiate Institute in 1986. His head coach was Jim Ridley, who was later inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Ridley twins — Jeremy and Shayne — were teammates who wound up playing at Ball State and were both drafted in 2000 (Jeremy Ridley by the Toronto Blue Jays and Shayne Ridley by the Baltimore Orioles.). “Jim was a tremendous influence on me,” says Scully. “He was a terrific coach and a terrific person. “Some are just very lucky. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very good baseball people.” A left-handed pitcher, Scully competed in the Junior Olympics at 18U and then played for and coached with Rick Mathews (now in the Colorado Rockies organization) at Indian Hills and played for Joel Murrie (now with the Los Angeles Angels) at Western Kentucky University. Scully earned an English Literature from WKU in 1992 and master’s degree in Sports Administration from the United State Sports Academy in 1994. “It was my intent to be an English teacher and baseball coach,” says Scully. “I learned that’s tough gig. Both require a lot of time. Now I’m helping daughter now with her grammar.” Larry and wife Shari have six children from 30 down to eighth-grader Ava. Shari Scully has taught for nearly 30 years and is employed as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher at Tremont (Ill.) Middle School.
Jordan Ashbrook is invested in education and athletics in Union County, Ind. The 2011 Union County High School graduate represents the third generation of his family to teach at Union County. A physical education teacher, strengh and conditioning coach and head baseball coach at UCHS in Liberty, Jordan has a mother — Teresa Ashbrook — who teaches first grade at Liberty Elementary School. Jordan’s grandfather — the late Norbert Bleill – was also a Union County teacher. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Jordan moved to Oxford, Ohio, then to Union County as a preschooler. He played high school baseball then coached alongside Jeff Matthews and took over the Patriots program before the 2020 season canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ashbrook admires retired Navy Master Chief Matthews for his ability to motivate and to forge those with leadership leanings. “You can talk about championships, but until you put in the work and effort to get there, it’s just talk,” says Ashbrook. “He really left it up to the guys he trusted in — his captains.” A catcher and first baseman earlier in his prep career, three-year varsity player Ashbrook was an all-state second baseman as a senior. At NCAA Division III Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Ashbrook was a corner infielder and designated hitter for head coach George Powell. Coming to the Cardinals at 5-foot-10 and 180, Ashbrook was encouraged to add 20 pounds of muscle by the spring. He came close, getting up to 195. The lefty swinger hit .287 with four home runs and 29 runs batted in as a sophomore in 2013 and .200 with two homers and 14 RBIs as a senior in 2015. Ashbrook was a double major at Otterbein in Health Education and Physical Education. “It’s good to bring knowledge from college and see the development we’ve been able to have in the last three years,” says Ashbrook the strength and conditioning coach for all Union County athletic teams. “I have pre and post data. We max out about every fourth week. It’s nice to see the steady increase throughout the year. You see the change in bodies from fall to spring.” With an enrollment around 400, Union County is full of multi-sport performers. “Sharing the athletes here is something we have to do if we want to be successful,” says Ashbrook. “I tell my (baseball players) to play at least one other sport and be an all-around athlete.” Teacher Pat Tafelski handled strength and conditioning duties when Ashbrook attended Union County. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. For the final five weeks of the window, Ashbrook intends to have traditional baseball practices on Tuesdays and intraquad scrimmages on Thursdays. The past two weeks he was regularly getting 16 athletes at weight room sessions. He expects around 20 at LCP dates. Union County is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City and Winchester). TEC games are generally played once a week. In 2021, the Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern and Shenandoah. Union County has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2018. Ashbrook is assisted by Union County teacher Daniel Taylor and longtime Pats assistant Ron Webb. Union County plays on Bill Webb Field, which gives spectators, players and coaches a view of the Liberty water tower. The varsity diamond is behind youth fields. “It’s cool seeing all the kids you’re going to coach in the future playing alongside you,” says Ashbrook, who has ramped up to middle school baseball program at Union County and got 48 to come to a callout meeting last week. Those players are invited to participate in fall workouts with the high school. Being a small school, Ashbrook says getting college exposure for his athletes calls for some grinding. He sends on profiles to help the process. Recent Union County graduates to move on to the next level include Mason Hornung (Wilmington College), Denton Shepler (University of Indianapolis) and Nate Webb (Ohio Northern University). As a hitting and pitching instructor at the former Powerhouse Performance Training facility in Richmond, Ind. (now Morrow’s Yard), Ashbrook worked with several players who went on to play college ball. Jordan and wife Shelby Ashbrook have a daughter — Mylee (16 months). Jerry Ashbrook is Jordan’s father. His younger sister is Taylor Ashbrook.
Whitehead is in his 19th season leading the Panthers program. He is also the Upper School athletic director at the private K-12 school (Grades K-5 in the Lower School, 6-8 in the Middle School and 9-12 in the Upper School – 9-12). The institution, which has about 375 in the Upper School, sports a 100 percent college placement rate.
“We’re big on education-based athletics and helping shape these young men and prepare them for their future,” says Whitehead. “It’s about having them learn lifelong lessons through baseball and what it means to be a good teammate, be focused, win and lose with grace and learn how to compete.
“Pretty soon they’ll have to compete in the game of life and it’s pretty tough out there.”
As far as the baseball part of the equation?
“We want to be fundamentally sound, have a high baseball I.Q., throw strikes (as pitchers) and make the right play,” says Whitehead. “We play fundamentally well and we execute.”
Park Tudor has 21 players in the program in 2021 and plays both a varsity and junior varsity schedule. That means players are asked to play multiple positions and many get a chance to pitch.
The baseball-playing schools see each other once each during the season.
The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Cascade (the 2021 host), Covenant Christian, Monrovia, Speedway and University. Park Tudor has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2013. A 1A state championship was earned in 1999 (Bob Hildebrand was head coach).
Micah Johnson, a 2009 Park Tudor graduate, was a standout at Indiana University and played in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He is now blossoming in the art world, frequently traveling back and forth from Indy to LA.
Current Panthers senior C.J. Richmond has committed to Western Illinois University. Whitehead says he expects that underclassmen will have a chance to play college baseball.
Park Tudor plays its home games on its campus located on College Avenue — about three miles northwest of Bishop Chatard High School and three miles northeast of Butler University.
A large backstop/net system was just installed at the Panthers’ field, which typically hosts IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments but with the construction of a new wellness center those events will be hosted in 2021 by Cascade.
In a non-COVID-19 year, Park Tudor will usually field a sixth grade team and a seventh/eighth grade squad that take on area independent and public middle schools.
“This is not a normal year,” says Whitehead. “(Grades 6-8) are practicing but not competing due to the pandemic.”
Whitehead is a 1996 graduate of Crawfordsville High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge and longtime assistant Rhett Welliever and was a teammate of current Athenians head coach Brett Motz.
“My four years we won a lot of ball games,” says Whitehead. “Coach Froedge was a big fundamentals guy. We were the start of Crawfordsville being really good.
“We went 30-3 and lost to Portage in semistate my junior year. That’s when there was one class.”
A celebration honoring Froedge was postponed in 2020 and is slated for Saturday, May 15 when Park Tudor plays at Crawfordsville. Bruce Whitehead, Courtney’s father, was Athenians AD for many years.
Courtney Whitehead played three seasons of college baseball — two at Indiana University Purdue University (IUPUI) for Bret Shambaugh and one at Goshen College for Todd Bacon.
As AD at Park Tudor, Whitehead oversees an athletic department that has 20 varsity teams, including baseball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls softball, girls tennis, boys track and field and girls track and field in the spring.
“I’ve got good people to help me to manage events and good set of coaches,” says Whitehead. “We communicate well.”
Whitehead began his coaching career at Lowell (Ind.) High School, assisting Kirk Kennedy in football and Mike Magley in basketball.
He was then a football assistant to Sean Tomey at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the same school year that he helped Jamie Sailors with Harrison High School (West Lafayette) baseball.
Assisting Whitehead at Park Tudor in 2021 are Toby Rogers, Fred Pinch and Madison Foster with the varsity and Brent Smith and Lane Waters with the JV. Rogers played high school ball at Bloomington South then at IUPUI for Shambaugh. Pinch is from the Washington D.C. area. Foster, a 2012 Park Tudor graduate, played for Whitehead and was on three consecutive semistate teams before playing at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.
Brent Smith is the father of former Whitehead player Calvin Smith. Harrison graduate Waters played baseball for the Raiders then basketball at Calvin University in Michigan.
Courtney and wife Beth have two sons and a daughter — all attending Park Tudor — freshman Nolan (as in Nolan Ryan), sixth grader Camden (as in Camden Yards in Baltimore) and second grader Addison (as in Clark and Addison, site of Wrigley Field in Chicago).
“My wife is a big sports and baseball person,” says Courtney Whitehead.
Many of Whitehead’s relatives are in the Nappanee/Bremen area.
A.J. Whitehead, who was a basketball standout at NorthWood High School in Nappanee and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is associate director of strength and conditioning at Purdue.
Cade’s mother, Amanda Moore (South Vigo Class of 1992), is Kyle’s sister. Amanda is married to Scott Moore (North Vigo Class of 1990), who began his teaching and coaching career at South Vigo and is now an administrator at North Vigo. Scott’s parents are Steve and Diane Moore.
Steve Moore (Terre Haute Garfield Class of 1962) was North Vigo head coach when his son played for the Patriots. Diane graduated from Garfield in 1964.
Kyle’s parents are Bob and Kelly Dumas. They once rooted for another grandson in former South Vigo Braves and Indiana State University standout Koby Kraemer (Class of 2008), son of Kyle. Father coached son.
Bob Dumas is a Massachusetts native who came to Terre Haute to attend Indiana State University and met Kelly (Terre Haute Gerstmeyer Tech Class of 1965).
A retired heating and cooling man, Bob Dumas is not hard to spot at at North Vigo-South Vigo game. He’s the one with the shirt that’s half blue with an “N” and red with an “S.” He had it made at an embroidery business in town.
“We’ve been South fans every since Kyle went to high school,” says Bob. “It’s been kind of a twisted year with Cade at North.
“There will be more favoritism to Cade because he’s actually playing.”
Says Kelly Dumas, “It’s a whole range of emotions. We’ve never been North fans.”
“I was a big fan of South watching (Koby) play as a little kid,” says Cade, who has taken hitting lessons from Koby and Kyle.”
What advice does Cade take from grandfather Steve Moore?
“Keep my head in the game and focus on making the right play,” says Cade, 18. “Be a leader and be a teammate. I’ve always been one to have a teammates’ back. Stick with a program. It’s been instilled from grandparents and parents. If you see a teammate knocked over you go help them up.
“I’m hearing the same thing from my coaches.”
Steve Moore, who has taught science at North Vigo, Indiana State and South Vigo, was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Jennings then took over the Patriots for six years in the early 1990’s.
“My expertise was in teaching the game,” says Steve, who for 18 years was the only man to tend to the overall maintenance of the North Vigo diamond which would become known as Don Jennings Field. “You have to think the game. Some kids are not thinking like they should about the game.
“We stressed fundamentals. Know what to do when the ball comes to you. In practice, we would go over just about everything.”
One of the school clubs at North Vigo was Baseball. Members/players would talk about the game and expand their knowledge.
“They had to learn the rules of baseball,” says Steve. “I gave tests. It was all in fun.
“It was a way to teach the game from a different perspective.”
He appreciates what he sees on the field from his grandson.
“I told Cade not too long ago. ‘You’re better than your dad and a whole lot better than your Grandpa,” says Steve. “He’s constantly thinking.”
“I did not like to see Kyle come to the plate,” says Steve. “His technique was always good. He could hit the daylights out of that ball.”
Scott Moore, who is now assistant principal of building and grounds at North Vigo, takes over as Post 346 manager — a position long held by John Hayes and then Tim Hayes.
Of course, Cade gets pointers from his father.
“Take charge and keep your teammates in the game as well as yourself,” says Cade of that advice. He’s more of the fundamental type.
“He can break down my (right-handed) swing for me and help me make an adjustment.”
Says Scott, “I talk to Cade about how being a part of a team is important and working with other people for a common goal.
“It’s about setting goals and working hard. What could I have done differently? Those are life lessons.”
Scott Moore — and the rest of the family — have watched Cade excel on the tennis court. Cade and doubles partner and classmate Ethan Knott (a close friend that he’s known since they played youth baseball together) came within two wins of making the State Finals in the fall of 2019.
“Being involved in multiple sports helps the athlete all-around,” says Scott.
“I like the way he runs his program,” says Cade. “I’ll go there to play infield. I’ll be a two-way if he likes me on the mound.”
Cade has been mostly a shortstop and third baseman when not on the mound for North Vigo.
Both sets of grandparents have already scouted at KWC and the town and look forward to spending time there and the places where the Panthers play.
“(Kentucky Wesleyan) has same colors as Garfield,” says Diane Moore. “Steve and I felt right at home.”
Diane, who retired after 32 years at the Vigo County Library, was brought up in a baseball-loving family.
“Before I even met Steve my father was a big Chicago Cubs fan,” says Diane. “My mother was from St. Louis and a Cardinals fan.”
Steve, who lived across the alley from Diane’s grandparents, met his future bride in high school.
Cade grew up spending plenty of time at his grandparents’ house. When he was young, Woodrow Wilson teacher Amanda dropped him her son at Steve and Diane’s and his grandmother took him to DeVaney.
“(Cade) and Grandpa played I don’t know how much catch in our cul de sac,” says Diane.
Being part of a family filled with educators has not been lost on Cade.
“Not only has it helped me on the field but in the classroom as well,” says Cade.
It doesn’t hurt that he has ready access to facilities thanks to his dad’s job.
“Education has always been our focus,” says Amanda Moore. “You’re here to get an education first and then you can participate in extracurricular activities.
“Cade’s always been a pretty good student though it took a little bit of guidance in kindergarten and first grade.”
Says Scott, “Fortunately he had some good habits and worked through some things. (As an only child), my wife and I were able to focus on him. There was tough love. I wouldn’t say we spoiled him.”
Being six years younger than brother Kyle, Amanda tagged along or begged out when he had games when they were youngsters. She was a gymnast and then a diver at South Vigo.
“Not until Cade started playing baseball did I have any interest in it,” says Amanda. “One great thing about having Cade involved in baseball for so many years is the friendships. These people have become almost like family.
“Some of the parents are like an aunt and uncle to Cade and vice versa. We travel together. We’ve supported each other when one child has been injured.
“It’s been nice to develop those almost familial relationships with those other people and children.”
Amanda has watched her son learn life lessons through sports. While in junior high he was on the track team and did not like it. But there was no quitting the team.
“When you make a commitment you can not back out of that,” says Amanda. “Taking the easy way out is not going to teach you anything about life.
“My brother has shown that loyalty is an important value to have and develop even through the tough times.”
Amanda also sees similarities in her son and nephew and notices a similar dynamic between her husband and son and her brother and his son.
“I can see the competitive edge and desire to work hard,” says Amanda. “I can see that mirror in Koby and Cade. They want to win and are willing to work hard.
“Kyle and Scott walk that fine line between being a coach and dad and not showing any favoritism.
“Sometimes dad is tougher on their own child than they are on their own players.”
Kelly Dumas, a retired teacher who saw Kyle first play T-ball at age 3 and make tin-foil balls to throw around the house when it was too cold to go outside, has been to diamonds all over the place and made friendships with players and their families.
“We’ve enjoyed 50 years of baseball,” says Kelly. “I just like to watch all the different players come through and follow what they do afterward. It’s good to see both my grandsons be successful
“We’ve been so many places with Koby, especially when he played for the (Terre Haute) Rex (the summer collegiate team that will be managed in 2021 by former big league slugger and Kyle Kraemer player A.J. Reed). We went to little towns with old wooden stadiums.
“Cade’s been working very hard to be the best he can be.”
Koby Kraemer, who briefly played in the Toronto Blue Jays system after college, is now assistant strength and conditioning coach at Ohio State University.
“We all love the game,” says Koby of the family’s affinity for baseball. “It plays a big part in our lives.
“The reason my dad has coached so long is because he loves it. The reason he’s successful is that he challenges people to be better.
“You get more out of them then they thought they had in them. That’s what makes good coaches.”
Besides April 30 (the Patriots won 8-5 at South Vigo) and May 7 at North Vigo, the rivals could meet three times this season. Both are in the IHSAA Class 4A Plainfield Sectional.
In his current position, working for Urban Knights head coach Dan McDermott, Collins-Bride, 30, is in charge of pitchers, catchers and infielders.
“I’m a teacher,” says Collins-Bride, who joined the ArtU coaching staff in September 2019. “Baseball and strength and conditioning seems to be my best form of teaching.
“When you see people grow and see the light click on and they create really good habits, that’s the special part.”
Developing pitchers at the NCAA Division II PacWest Conference institution for Collins-Bride is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.
“It’s individualistic once you have a base,” says Collins-Bride. “It depends on the players’ needs.”
Some pitchers possess good command and need to improve their stuff. Some have superior velocity but lack movement on their pitches. Others need concentration on the mental side of baseball.
“We’re picking and choosing what we focus on,” says Collins-Bride.
A strength and conditioning coach for several Indiana Tech teams, Collins-Bride has studied biomechanics as it relates to athletes. He has become OnBaseU-certified.
“You have to know how each player moves and how they’re supposed to move,” says Collins-Bride, who does a movement assessment on each ArtU pitcher. “That’s critical.
“You structure the off-season around filling those buckets.”
You’re not treating every car like a Toyota. You also have Dodges and Kias. You don’t spend all your time racing the Lamborghini, you also spend time working with it in the garage.
COVID-19 caused the Urban Knights’ 2020 season to halt after 20 games. McDermott and Collins-Bride helped the player see the quarantine as an opportunity for growth.
“It was a chance to check something on your bucket list,” says Collins-Bride. “If you don’t do it, shame on you.
“Many (players) came back (in the fall) in the biggest shape of their lives,” says Collins-Bride. “It was really cool to see what these guys did over 6-7 months after only hearing about it over the phone.”
Alameda resident Collins-Bride used the extra time to go on long bike rides, including a trek around Lake Tahoe.
ArtU practices at The Presidio and plays games at Laney College. During fall practice, players went through daily temperature and system checks.
Most of the time, workouts were conducted with just six to eight players.
“It was different,” says Collins-Bride. “But it was really good from a development standpoint.”
There was more one-on-one time with coaching while raw skills — running, throwing, fielding and swinging — were being refined mixed with intrasquad play.
“Ideally, that’s what a fall should be — create some raw skills and play a little bit,” says Collins-Bride. “Summer baseball is failing kids. They’re playing too much and not practicing enough or practicing too much and not playing enough.
“We had a really good balance (in the fall.).”
It’s about building proper motor patterns. That’s why weighted balls and bats are used to carve a new path for the brain.
“It’s a brand new road and they learn that quickly,” says Collins-Bride.
Born in San Francisco, the son of carpenter Bob Bride and professor/nurse practitioner Geraldine Collins-Bride grew up loving baseball.
Patrick’s father did not have much experience at the game, but he did come up with several tools to guide “FUN-damentals” for Little Leaguers. Bob devoured books and DVDs while researching training methods.
“He’d have us swing ax handles,” says Collins-Bride. “We’d hit wiffle balls with hoses to teach us to whip the bat. He turned a leaf blower into a wiffle ball pitching machine. To develop soft hands, we’d toss eggs or water balloons. We had stations all around my small house.”
Flood lights were installed over the garage so these sessions could go deep into the night.
Patrick went to the Boys & Girls Club and learned about pitching from major leaguers who hailed from Alameda. Pitcher Dontrelle Willis taught him how to play “strikeout.”
Middle schooler Collins-Bride learned about the proper way to field a grounder from shortstop Jimmy Rollins at an RBI camp held at Encinal.
Collins-Bride expresses gratitude of coaching with McDermott, who is heading into his 28th season as a college coach in 2021.
“It’s like coaching with your dad,” says Collins-Bride. “He really, really loves you and he’s not going to let you mess up.
“We get really great life lessons all the time. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Collins-Bride coached for five seasons at Indiana Tech (2015-19), where Kip McWilliams is the Warriors head coach. “C.B.” worked with hitters, infielders, catchers and volunteered his strength and conditioning services while pursuing and after completing his Masters of Marketing and Management.
Indiana Tech typically carries a roster of 60 or more to help fund the program — with varsity and developmental teams.
“We had to carry a lot of players,” says Collins-Bride. “We decided if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it really well.
“Playoff time is when the Warriors showed up.”
Collins-Bride notes that almost all the players in the starting lineup in the 2015 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference championship game started out on the development team.
“That was so important,” says Collins-Bride of the large squad. “They all trained together. We created an efficient practice style. Everybody had a purpose.
“We competed. If you were recruited there, you worked hard. When you have that many guys with a passion for baseball, it makes for such a good atmosphere.
“To do it right, you make sure you treat each kid well. I think we accomplished that. The beautiful thing about baseball and life is what a kid can make out of himself in two or four years.”
Collins-Bride said the Tech culture was based on standards and not rules.
“There was an acceptable level of behavior for everyone in the program and accountability is a two-way street (standards applied equally to players and coaches),” says Collins-Bride. “Coaches didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walked.”
Or — better yet — they hustled from station to station just like the players.
It was also an atmosphere of positivity.
“No BCE (Blaming, Complaining or Excuses) was allowed,” says Collins-Bride. “Because it’s not helping the situation.”
Dosson, a graduate of Heritage High School in Monroeville, Ind., was a highly-touted player in high school who wound up behind an All-American for a few seasons with the Warriors then got a chance to hit behind Tech standout and No. 3 hitter Glen McClain.
Barksdale, who went to Cass Tech High School in Detroit, spent a few seasons on the developmental team then got his chance to shine with the varsity in a game against Florida Memorial.
“He had been training really, really hard,” says Collins-Bride. “He hit a ground ball in the 6-hole and beat it out for a base hit. That was pretty special.”
Collins-Bride calls Biagini, hard-nosed player from San Francisco, the “most impactful kid I’ve ever been around.”
“He was the epitome of leadership,” says Collins-Bride of the national gold glove shortstop. “He’d say what coaches would have to say. He’d see things and fix them.
“They way he practiced, he raised the level of everyone around him.”
Collins-Bride had been with McWilliams when he observed a Spring Arbor University practice led by head coach Sam Riggleman. The SAU Cougars made workouts fast and as game-like a possible.
“Practice is the hardest thing we would do,” says Collins-Bride. “Games were slow. Everything (in practice) counted. Everything had detail.”
Collins-Bride noticed that long-time Lewis-Clark State College coach Ed Cheff and Folsom Lake College coach Rich Gregory (who played for future Indiana State University and University of Washington coach Lindsay Meggs on a NCAA Division II championship team at Cal State Chico) also took to that kind of preparation — skill under pressure.
It did no good to see 50 mph batting practice pitches when the game was going to bring 90 mph.
Collins-Bride went from Ave Maria, where he played two seasons (2011 and 2012) and coached two (2013 and 2014), after checking his options of serving as a graduate assistant to Scott Dulin at Fisher College in Boston.
On his first working day with Tech, he flew from San Francisco to Boston then drove 15 hours to Fort Wayne. He met McWilliams at 5 a.m. and they drove all the way to Vincennes (Ind.) for a junior college showcase.
“We talked baseball the whole way,” says Collins-Bride.
During Collins-Bride’s entire at Tech, Debbie Warren was the athletic director.
“She was an unbelievable leader of people,” says Collins-Bride. “She knew how to push you. She was very tough and phenomenal to work with.”
Warren helped get the weight room updated just about the time Collins-Bride was leaving to go back to California.
While he was there he planted a desk near the weights and managed 80 athletes in a two-hour window.
Shawn Summe, a graduate of Penn High School and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., was the head coach at NAIA Ave Maria. He started the program. The Gyrenes’ first season was 2010.
“(Summe) is a very intense person and an emotional leader,” says Collins-Bride. “We practiced really hard. He was really awesome to play for.
“He deeply had your back and wanted you to succeed.”
Collins-Bride, who received a Politics degree from Ave Maria, sees his transition from player to coach as a smooth one.
“It was easy to step into a role of leadership and demand respect,” says Collins-Bride. “We had a special senior group in 2013.”
Lennon, who died in 2019 at 80, won three baseball letters at Notre Dame and later taught at the university and served as three decades for the Notre Dame Alumni Association.
Lennon’s zeal was on display even at early hours when Collins-Bride was getting a few more winks before greeting the day on an Ave Maria road trip.
“He’s say, ‘Wake up C.B., the world is waiting for us,” says Collins-Bride. “Talk about positivity. He was a beaming, shining light.”
After a semester at Cal State East Bay, Collins-Bride transferred to California Community College Athletic Association member Laney and played two seasons (2009 and 2010) for Eagles coach Francisco Zapata.
“Coach Z is a great human being,” says Collins-Bride. “He really knew his stuff and he knew how to push you.
“It was really hard to let him down. You know what he had to go through to play baseball. You’ve got nothing to complain about.”
Zapata grew up in Nicaragua and brought a work ethic to his coaching.
“There was an expectation level,” says Collins-Bride.
His prep career began on the Alameda High junior varsity for coach Joe Pearse and concluded at Encinal for Jim Saunders.
“(Pearse) was a hard-nosed guy,” says Collins-Bride. “We were working hard and there was a lot of competition.
“(Saunders, who coached Rollins) was an excellent manager of talent.”
During his time as a player and manager with the San Francisco Seals, Collins-Bride not only got a chance to enjoy the rivalry with the Arcata-based Humboldt Crabs but got the chance to play all over the place. During a two-year span, he traveled through 33 states and played in around 20.
If you were in Zionsville, Ind., a few months ago and saw Nate Dohm pushing his mother’s SUV down the street, it wasn’t because of vehicle trouble.
Dohm was doing his best to keep up with baseball strength and conditioning workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Laird’s Training LLC closed because of the lockdown and no access to weighted sleds or other equipment, the athlete had to improvise.
Dohm, a senior at Zionsville Community High School in 2020-21, began working out with Sean Laird in the fall of his eighth grade year. He first participated in Laird’s winter arm care and velocity program as a sophomore and has done it consistently since then.
Right-hander Dohm registered a pulldown max of 89 mph as a sophomore and 95 mph as a junior.
“My jumps on the mound were much bigger,” says Dohm, a right-hander who hit 83 mph as a freshmen, 89 mph as a sophomore and 92 mph as a junior. The Ball State University commit played for Laird this summer on the Indiana Bulls 17 Black squad. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at if I didn’t start lifting with Sean and doing that velo program.
“He helped me get stronger (physically and mentally). He doesn’t make it easy for you. It’s about pushing through that. You have to want to get better if you want to do his workouts.”
Laird has seen Dohm reap the rewards for his sweat.
“His work ethic is second to none,” says Laird. “The kid has literally changed his life.
“He’s changing himself into a power pitcher, which is cool to see.”
Taking his methods with him to the Bulls (it wasn’t unusual to see them doing side-hill sprints before or after a game), Laird was able to see strides in right-hander and Ohio University commit Brady Linkel (South Ripley High School Class of 2021).
“He’s one of those disciplined hard-nosed guys,” says Laird. “You saw him getting stronger and stronger by the end of the summer.”
That Bulls 17 Black team also featured Purdue Fort Wayne commits Bryce Martens (South Bend Adams High School Class of 2021) and Braxton Wilson (Martinsville Class of 2021).
“I was always a hard thrower growing up,” says Laird. “The last five or six years, it’s become very popular to throw as hard as you can.
“I see things people are doing that are really good and really bad. I saw a need. Everything I do is based on my experience, sports, and exercise science background. I want to focus on improving strength, core stability, mobility, and athleticism in our athletes. I take care of the arm and athlete first.”
Laird’s training methods include building athleticism from the ground up.
Typical in-person arm care/velo program sessions will last around 90 to 105 minutes twice a day. The first day is about strength and power, the second day explosive or dynamic effort work.
Athletes are given things to do on their own on the other days of the week.
When the players are with Laird there is a warm-up of 30 to 45 minutes that includes ground-based mobility work, including bands to strengthen the rotator cuff and scapula. There are also exercises with plyometic and medicine balls and attention to Thoracic Spine (T-Spine) movement.
After the warm-up comes activation. There is weighted sled work for the lower half. Weight med balls are used in upper body plyometics.
“We want to create force from the ground up,” says Laird, who also has his players do one-legged box jumps and hurdles to promote explosiveness and agility. “My goal is to have a more mobile and explosive athlete.”
Baseball or softball players — overhead athletes — in the program don’t touch a ball for about 45 minutes then they throw for 15 to 20 minutes maximum. They spend 12 or so minutes on long toss and then begin pulldowns.
“We want them to get their bodies into their throws,” says Laird. “Then we go into a recovery period and do blood-pumping band work and mobility stuff.
“We want to make sure elbow, flexors and extenders are strong.”
The same is true for the T-Spine and ankles.
While recovery is done as a group, Laird knows that not all his athletes are the same and have individual needs.
“I’m a big guy on communication,” says Laird. “Let me know what they feel.”
On the third day of the program, Laird has his players throwing a football — something that Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan did in his training.
“We want to throw with a tight spiral,” says Laird. “Throwing a football teaches pronation and good arm motion. You get immediate feedback with a football. It you have bad mechanics, you’ll throw a wounded duck. You have to be efficient.”
Players are encouraged to build their arms through long toss — working up to throwing the ball 300 or more feet if they are comfortable with it and can maintain mechanics, but everyone is different and distance can be different depending on the athlete’s ability.
Zack Thompson, who played for Laird with the Indiana Bulls and then the University of Kentucky and in the St. Louis Cardinals system, prefers to cap his long toss at 120 feet.
“It helps him mechanically,” says Laird.
This summer, which followed a spring without high school baseball, the Bulls played into mid-August and got in more games than a normal travel season.
“We wanted to make sure we could keep playing,” says Laird. “We treated June as spring training (and gradually increased pitch counts). By July, we hit the ground running.”
The Bulls are playing fall ball. Laird is busy with his training busy so he is not coaching.
“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.”
“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.
“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”
According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.
“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”
With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).
With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.
Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.
“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.
“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”
Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.
“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.
“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.
“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”
With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.
“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”
Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.
“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”
Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.
He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.
Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).
“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”
A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.
At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.
“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”
His arm was tired from the workload.
With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.
Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.
He wanted to only pitch.
Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”
“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”
The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.
In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.
Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.
“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.
Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”
“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.
He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If hepitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.
Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.
He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.
On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.
A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.
During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.
“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.
Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.
“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”
During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.
During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.
“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”
Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)
Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)