Tag Archives: Tom Washburn

Smolinski now running the show for Saint Joe baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coach Smo is raring to go.

John Smolinski, who first wore a baseball uniform for Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind., as a player in 2004 and was an Indians assistant coach for the past eight seasons is now Saint Joe’s head coach.

Smolinski is anxious to continue the legacy started by John Gumpf, who led the program from 2007-20 with seven sectionals, two regionals, one semistate and a Class 3A state championship in 2017

The last pitch that Brady Gumpf, now at Notre Dame, saw for Saint Joe was thumped for a home run against eventual state champion Andrean in the 2019 Griffith Regional championship game.

“I was fortunate to play for him and coach with him,” says Smolinski of Brady Gumpf’s father, John. “I got to understand his thoughts and how he thinks about the game.

“My goal is to make him proud and build upon the foundation he has started for Saint Joe.

“I’m very loyal to this school. I have big shoes to fill. It’s emotional. It’s high expectations. I’m embracing it.”

Smolinski’s senior year at Saint Joseph (2007) was Gumpf’s first as head coach. The Indians won Plymouth Sectional and one-game regional crowns and lost to future major league pitcher Jarrod Parker and eventual state champion Norwell in the Plymouth Semistate. Norwell finished the 2007 season at 35-0.

“We had a great team and a lot of seniors,” says Smolinski of Saint Joe. “There was a program chance when Coach Gumpf came in there.”

In Gumpf, Smolinski saw a competitor who respected the opposition and demanded the best out of his players and plans to emulate those qualities.

As interim coach, Smolinski led the Indians through Limited Contacted Period practice two days a week with about two dozen players. 

“We did not have any positive COVID cases,” says Smolinski. “Our (practice) structure has changed. We take this very serious.”

Attendance was taken before each workout to make sure every student was able to participate. They were put into smaller groups — each player having a group number — and socially-distanced. 

Coaches and players were always masked-up. He expects to have 13 seniors and 16 freshmen among 50 players for varsity, JV and freshman squads in the spring.

“It went really well,” says Smolinski. “Everybody bought into it.

“Not having the (spring) season hurt everyone (though most everyone played travel ball in the summer). 

“We got after it. I got great feedback from the players. I was happy with the senior leadership. It was great to have some normalcy.”

At the end of the fall, Smolinski applied for the vacant head coaching position and went through the interview process. 

Smolinski, who played four years at Manchester University for Rick Espeset before joining the Saint Joe coaching staff, was named head coach this week. Tom Washburn is expected be a varsity assistant and Dan Mentock the junior varsity head coach. There are other assistants, including a freshmen head coach, to hire.

“The last 24 hours have been kind of crazy,” says Smolinski, speaking on Nov. 4. “A lot of people have reached out to me. 

“At Saint Joe, we’re a family. You can tell. People are willing to help out.”

Smolinski says players will likely get to help design an alternate jersey for the Indians. Recently, that look has featured black though the school colors are Columbia Blue and White. Coach Smo says Saint Joe will continuing to don a black cap.

Away from his coaching job, Smolinski is a self-employed social media manager that amplifies athletic accounts on Twitter including WhistleSports and FanSided.

Saint Joseph (with an enrollment around 850) is a member of the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Elkhart, Jimtown, John Glenn, Marian, Mishawaka, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley and South Bend Washington).

The Indians are in a Class 3A sectional grouping with Marian, New Prairie, South Bend Clay and South Bend Washington.

John Smolinski, a 2007 graduate of Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind., is now head baseball coach at his alma mater.
John Smolinski has been named head baseball coach at Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind. The 2007 Saint Joe graduate was a varsity assistant for eight years on the staff of John Gumpf.

Indiana Land Sharks travel organization enjoys great growth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Can’t you see them circling … the bases?

The Indiana Land Sharks are coming to a diamond near you.

The travel organization based in northern Indiana and southern Indiana is fielding 26 teams — 22 baseball and four softball — with 290 players in 2017.

Ages are 8U to 17U for baseball and 10U to 16U for softball. The only baseball division that does not have more than one team in 17U. There is one team each for the four softball age groups. Teams are distinguished by the colors blue, gray and black.

The first Land Sharks team was run by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and South Bend resident Jim Reinebold in 2003 at the invitation of Clint Emberton (father of Chad Emberton), Dr. Karl Schultz (father of Kyle Schultz) and Russ Stines (father of Brenden Stines).

The Land Sharks were a top-10 finisher in a big tournament at Wide World of Sports in Florida.

A later team featured future major leaguer Ryan Strausborger.

The program was re-birthed with one one in 2009 and expanded to five in 2012.

In 2015, a new indoor training facility was added in Niles, Mich., and the Land Sharks began fielding girls softball teams.

A second indoor facility (Niles Sports Warehouse) is managed by the Land Sharks.

“We just grew so quickly,” says Jim Robinson, Land Sharks athletic director and an owner along with Marc Waite, John Baxter and Joel Reinebold. “We’re offering a product people want.”

Based on training space, teams were actually turned away.

All coaches are volunteers and many are associated with high schools.

“We are advocates of the high school game,” says Robinson.

8U players typically play three to six tournaments per season. These families are exploring travel baseball to see if it’s for them.

“We encourage (players on) 8U teams to play rec ball and experience travel ball,” says Robinson. “9U also plays at limited travel schedule.”

By the time they reach 10U, they are usually playing a full travel schedule. From that age until high school, they might play up to 50 games from early April until Aug. 1 (when high school sports practices start).

Needing more pitching, high school teams may carry 14 or 15 players on a roster. The younger ones usually go with 11.

High school players cease off-season training with the Land Sharks once their school teams fill their rosters and they don’t begin their travel season until they are released from their school teams, making for a shorter season of four or five tournaments.

Tryouts are usually held the second weekend of August.

While there is natural attrition as families move or players gravitate to another sport or activity, Robinson says retention is pretty high from season to season, meaning many teams may be only looking to fill a few spots.

“People follow good organization and good coaching,” says Robinson. “The chemistry of the parents is also very important. (Travel ball) is your summer family. Kids travel and room together (on road trips). So many families have multiple kids playing. They depend on people they trust.”

Some teams stay together year after year. Take the current 17U baseball team. This team — coached by Tom Washburn, John Kehoe and Dennis Ryans — has been together since 10U.

This familiarity has been a key to development.

“We’re different from a lot of the teams we play,” says Washburn, who coaches older son Andrew (lead-off hitter on the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state champion South Bend St. Joseph Indians) on the 17U team and also younger son Joseph on a 10U team. “Each year we can teach these guys a little bit more. Many travel teams don’t have time to practice and it becomes knowledge vs. talent.”

New Prairie High School graduate Washburn played for Tony Robichaux at McNeese State. South Bend Washington graduate Kehoe was in the Toronto Blue Jays system. South Bend LaSalle product Ryans the New York Yankees organization.

Washburn calls the 10U team a hybrid with travel and Chet Waggoner Little League games on its schedule.

In either scenario, it’s all about learning how to play.

“At 10, I’m more concerned with their development than winning a bunch of trophies,” says Washburn. “We learn to run pick-offs at second, the hit-and-run and proper bunt. We learn about running a first and third defense and cut-offs. It’s amazing to me. These 10 year-old kids pick it up quick.”

Washburn, a longtime Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp instructor who took his sons to former Land Shark Strausborger for tips at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center during the winter, says the reason so many people gravitate to travel ball and away from Little League and the like is because it offers more traditional rules at younger ages.

“It’s just different baseball,” says Washburn. “The younger boys learn to lead off, hold runners on as pitchers and catchers learn to give signs.”

Washburn also sees the appeal of summer travel ball tournaments with a concentrated group of talented player to college coaches who are busy coaching their own players during the spring.

Each Land Sharks team typically makes at least one big trip. Robinson had a team in Omaha, Neb., tournament last weekend, where they got to take in College World Series games.

Land Sharks teams play in Baseball Player’s Association, Gameday USA, Bomb Squad, Bullpen, Pastime, United States Specialty Sports Association and National Softball Association events.

Some popular game sites include Grand Park, Newton Park, City-County Athletic Complex in Warsaw, some Michigan City parks and Belleville Softball Complex in South Bend.

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The Indiana Land Sharks travel baseball and softball organization traces its origins back to the 2003 Michiana Land Sharks. In 2017, the outfit has 26 teams — 22 baseball and four softball. (Steve Krah Photo)