Tag Archives: Tony Primavera

Purdue grad Isom embraces independent pro baseball manager role, wins title with Joliet Slammers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Isom got to do something for the first time in nearly two decades as a professional baseball manager in 2018.

Isom got to hoist the championship trophy as the decision maker for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers — his first title as a pro skipper.

“It only took me 18 years, but I finally got one,” says Isom, a 1990 Lafayette Jefferson High School and 1998 Purdue University graduate who still resides in West Lafayette, Ind. “A lot of teams made the finals and just came up short for one reason or another. Our pitching staff (at Joliet) was outstanding and did not lose guys to major league clubs like some teams did.”

Without Major League Baseball feeding them players, Isom and other independent ball managers go out and found their own players. The Slammers championship squad featured 14 that came from tryout camps.

“I love getting guys that have been overlooked by the draft for one reason or another,” says Isom of his attraction to independent baseball. “Scouting is not an exact science. We work with them and try to continue to make them better players.

“In independent baseball, most teams rely on the manager. I like it that way. I have the ultimate say in who is going to be on our club.

“I value those tryouts. I know the players are hungry if they’re going to a tryout camp.”

The Frontier League is considered a developmental circuit and the maximum age is 27. A couple of top pitchers from 2018 — Nate Antone and Liam O’Sullivan — will age out and Isom intends to help them make connections so they can keep playing either at the independent or affiliated level.

“Indy ball has been a great time for me,” says Isom, a three-time Frontier League Manager of the Year (2002, 2016 and 2018) who turned 46 on Sept. 22. “I loved every minute of it when I was a player and I’ve loved every minute of it as a manager.

“I’ve been fortunate to make a career out of this.”

Isom doesn’t see it as a job. He sees it as an opportunity to pass along what he knows about the game. He soaked up information from the folks in affiliated baseball and he has done the same thing in independent ball.

Besides his current job with the Slammers, Isom’s managing stops have taken him to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles, Washington (Pa.) Wild Things, Joliet JackHammers, Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums and Lake Erie (Ohio) Crushers.

In six seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers system, he managed the West Virginia Power, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Brevard County (Fla.) Manatees and Helena (Mont.) Brewers.

As a left-handed pitcher, Isom played for Tony Primavera at Lafayette Jeff then three seasons at Purdue (1991-93) — one for head coach Dave Alexander and two from Steve Green. Isom went 16-4 with five saves and a 3.72 earned run average over his last two Boiler seasons. In 149 1 /3 innings, he struck out 119 and walked 55.

Isom was born in Pullman, Wash., and wound up in West Lafayette when his father was hired at Purdue (Gary Isom is Professor Emeritus of Toxicology in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology).

The southpaw was an all-Big Ten Conference honoree in 1993 along with teammate and future major league Jermaine Allensworth. The Boilermakers were the only college to recruit Isom.

“As a player, (Alexander) instilled discipline in me,” says Isom of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He taught time management skills and how to hold yourself accountable.

“I had to grow up quick.”

Green imparted wisdom and inspiration.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without Coach Green,” says Isom. “He’s probably the most influential person I’ve had in my baseball career.”

At age 14, Isom played for a Green-managed Pony League team.

“He taught me how to throw a split-finger fastball (forkball) and my career took off from there,” says Isom. “As a pitching coach/head coach, (Green) instilled a lot of confidence in me. He wanted me to have the baseball in my hand.

“I got drafted because of what he taught me.”

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 18th round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Isom pitched three seasons in the Pirates and San Diego Padres organizations and then four more in indy ball.

While playing in indy ball, he met two managers — Doug Simunic and Andy McCauley — that helped him on what would lead to a career as a manager.

Isom played for Simunic with the independent Northern League’s Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.) RedHawks and was allowed to pick the skipper’s brain.

“I was just trying to learn and he took me under his wing,” says Isom of Simunic, who went on to become the first independent baseball manager to reach 1,000 wins. “I took best from all the managers I had.

“I’m learning everyday.”

MacCauley coached in Fargo-Moorhead and met up with Isom again with the Frontier League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kodiaks.

Isom was released eight times during his pro playing career. After three starts and three losses for Kalamazoo, he cut himself from the team and headed home only to be called back by MacCauley to be pitching coach. The two men have bounced baseball ideas off each other ever since.

MacCauley has been the manager of the Frontier League’s Evansville (Ind.) Otters since 2010.

Isom’s best friend in baseball, MacCauley was in his wedding (Jeff and former Purdue volleyball player/current Klondike Middle School physical education/health teacher Lisa Isom have two children at Harrison High School in West Lafayette — senior volleyballer Samantha and freshman baseballer Will) and trades between Joliet and Evansville are common.

When school is out, Will travels with the Slammers and sees the effort that goes into being a pro player.

“In independent baseball, you’ve got to put up numbers or there’s going to be changes,” says Isom. “Hard work will pay off.”

When he’s not away managing professionals, Isom can be found back in West Lafayette spending time with his family and teaching private lessons at On Deck Baseball, a business owned by former pro player Josh Loggins.

“I want to see kids get quality coaching,” says Isom, who coached two seasons at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the 1990s.

JEFFISOM

Jeff Isom, a graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., managed the Joliet (Ill.) Slammers to the championship of the independent Frontier League in 2018. (Joliet Slammers Photo)

 

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‘No-nonsense’ Bacon has Marian U. in NAIA Opening Round

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Marian University began its 2017 baseball in the Mid-South and the Knights are returning to that part of the country with a berth in the NAIA Opening Round.

It’s the first time the school has made it since the NAIA changed the postseason format over a decade ago.

Coach Todd Bacon’s club opened the campaign Feb. 17 in Blue Mountain, Miss., and will now go to Kingsport, Tenn., for a five-team double-elimination event Monday through Thursday, May 15-18.

The winner out of No. 1 seed Keiser (Fla.) (39-18), No. 2 Tennessee Wesleyan (39-18), No. 3 Indiana University Southeast (45-13), No. 4 Talladega (Ala.) (36-22) and No. 5 Marian (29-21) advances to the 10-team NAIA World Series May 26-June 2 in Lewiston, Idaho. Marian meets Talladega in Game 1 Monday morning.

Other Indiana schools in the NAIA tournament are Huntington and Indiana Tech.

“We’ve really tried to upgrade our schedule each year,” says Bacon. “We’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to get this program to where it is now.”

Bacon is in his fourth year as head coach. But he has coached in the Crossroads League (formerly known as the Mid-Central Conference) for 27 years. He’s led baseball programs at Goshen and Marian, men’s basketball squads at Goshen, women’s basketball, men’s tennis and women’s tennis at Marian).

Through it all, Bacon has demanded his players do things a certain way.

“Every team and athlete would probably tell you it’s a no-nonsense,” says Bacon, who was an MU baseball assistant to Kurt Guldner for five years before becoming head coach. “There’s not a lot of sugar coat. There’s not a lot of beating around the bush.”

Bacon lays his cards on the table when he’s recruiting.

“I can tell every kid at the end of our visit that they’ll say ‘I would love to play there’ or ‘no way am I going there,’” says Bacon. “Either way is great. Usually there’s not shades of gray. It’s pretty black and white.”

All but one player on the 2017 roster are from Indiana hometowns. It’s not only because Marian, a Catholic school that’s been in Indianapolis since 1937, does not have a bottomless recruiting budget. There’s another big reason.

“We have to watch those kids play multiple times to see how they interact with teammates, how they handle adversity, how the handle success,” says Bacon. “Most coaches recruit to their ballpark. That’s something we’ve tried to do here. If we can be very, very good at home that gives us a chance to be in the top half of the conference and compete at tournament time.”

The 2017 Knights went 16-3 at spacious Marian University Ballpark (it’s 400 feet to dead center field).

“We have thick natural grass and it does not play quick,” says Bacon. “You’ve got have some guys with sure hands in the infield because they are going have to make some plays on the move on our grass.”

Marian has been consistently solid on defense since Bacon took over the program.

“We’ve made the routine plays,” says Bacon. “That’s kept us in games when our offense has been hot and cold.”

Bacon helped Benton Central High School make it to the Elite Eight in his junior and senior baseball seasons of 1985 and 1986. The four-year varsity player was coached by Doug Jennett for the first three years and Tony Primavera his senior year.

At Earlham College, where he graduated in 1990, Bacon was a star on the basketball court and also played baseball for coach Doug Welsh.

His coaching approach is a mixture of many others he’s come across during during long career.

“You learn something from every coach you have,” says Bacon. “You pick and choose all the things that fit your personality and what you’re trying to get done.”

Bacon’s coaching staff features Mark Elder (third season), Matt Voorhees (third season), Brett Jackson (first season), Austin Gibson (fifth season) and Scott Satterthwaite (seventh season).

Elder pitched at Indiana University for coach Bob Morgan and is MU pitching coach.

Voorhees, who played four years at Wabash College, shares hitting coach duties with Bacon.

Jackson, who played up the middle for the Knights, now works with infielders.

Gibson, who was an all-conference player for Marian, helps with recruiting on the east side of the state.

Satterthwaite handles many administrative duties and some Indianapolis area recruiting.

Todd and Carmen Bacon have four children — Dakota (24), Maverick (a sophomore first baseman at Ball State University after a prep career at North Montgomery), Isaac (high school sophomore) and Teegan (sixth grader).

“In 27 years of coaching, you have to have people stand beside you through the good and the tough times,” says Bacon.

BACONFAMILY

The Bacon family (from left): Isaac, Carmen, Dakota, Maverick, Teegan and Todd. The 2017 Marian University baseball season marks Todd’s fourth as head coach and ninth in the program. The Knights are bound for the NAIA Opening Round in Kingsport, Tenn.