Tag Archives: Tony Robichaux

Fort Wayne’s DeJesus recalls amateur, professional roots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Javier DeJesus was born in Puerto Rico, shined on the high school diamonds of Texas and excelled collegiately in Louisiana.

Drafted by the Minnesota Twins, his professional baseball career put DeJesus in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1994.

The former left-handed pitcher has been around the Summit City most of the time since toeing the rubber for the Fort Wayne Wizards (now known as the Fort Wayne TinCaps).

Javi met a local girl (Deborah), fell in love, got married and had three sons (Damon, Jordan and Evan) while staying close to his favorite game.

DeJesus’ day job as a health care administator keeps him busy, but he still has time to teach lessons at The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy, where Manny Lopez is director of baseball operations.

Javi DeJesus helps coach Fort Wayne Diamondbacks travel teams featuring Jordan (14U DeJesus) and Evan (12U). Damon DeJesus, who played at Indiana University South Bend and in the independent Empire League, is the 14U head coach.

DeJesus and former WOWO radio personality Charly Butcher founded the Fort Wayne Cubs, which later became the Diamondbacks.

Born in Ponce, P.R., DeJesus moved to Moss Bluff, La., as a boy then Beaumont, Texas, where he was one of only two sophomores to play varsity baseball at West Brook Senior High School (catcher Jason Smith, who went on to the University of Texas-Arlington and the Colorado Rockies organization, was the other).

It was as a 10th grader that DeJesus caught the attention of University of Southwestern Louisiana assistant coach Emrick Jagneaux.

“He said, ‘once you get this thing figured out with the curveball, I’ll come back and pick you up,’” says DeJesus of Jagneaux. “He was true to his word.”

DeJesus went to USL (now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette) and went 23-1 in three seasons (1990-92) for the Mike Boulanger-coached Ragin’ Cajuns. 

One of his signature victories was a complete game at Mississippi State University in 1991. That team was coached by American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ron Polk and inside rowdy and intimidating Dudy Noble Field.

The lefty was 22-0 as a starter. He came on in relief against Oregon State University and three crucial errors led to his only college setback.

In his three seasons, the Ragin’ Cajuns went 47-18, 49-20 and 38-23 and won two American South Conference titles and a Sun Belt Conference West crown. 

DeJesus won 13 games for Southwest Louisiana in 1992, was an All-American, co-Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and selected to Team Puerto Rico. An elbow injury suffered during the Olympic Trials kept him from going to the Barcelona Games, where first-time Olympic baseball qualifier Puerto Rico placed fifth.

In the summer of 1990, DeJesus played American Legion Baseball in Louisiana for McNeese State University head coach Tony Robichaux and assistant Todd Butler.

Robichaux was head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette 1995-2019 (he died after the 2019 season) and won more than 1,100 games in his 33-year career.

The Twins selected DeJesus in the 17th round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He got into just two games in 1992 then went 9-0 at rookie-level Elizabethton, Tenn., in 1993. 

Ray Smith was the Elizabethton manager.

“He’s one of the nicest overall men that has ever graced us with his presence,” says DeJesus of Smith. “His philosophy was very simple: Show us what you can do.”

DeJesus remembers that Smith was very mild-mannered until the morning after an Appalachian League playoff loss at Bluefield, Va., that saw the team get extra-boisterous at the hotel.

Let’s just say the Twins were chewed out before riding back to Tennessee.

Playing at Low Class-A Fort Wayne in 1994, DeJesus encountered manager Jim Dwyer and pitching coach Stew Cliburn.

It was in Fort Wayne that DeJesus, who was in the bullpen at old Memorial Stadium, witnessed the first professional home run for 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez

DeJesus can still see the hanging slider by Shane Bowers, who had a cup of coffee with the 1997 Twins, that A-Rod popped for the Appleton Foxes.

Southpaw DeJesus was 5-2 with two saves, a 0.93 earned run average, 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 38 2/3 innings at Fort Wayne and was at Double-A Nashville briefly before injury cut his season short.

DeJesus recalls that a Nashville TV station aired a lengthy piece about his injury. Xpress manager Phil Roof and pitching coach Rick Anderson were complimentary, saying how the lefty had the make-up to be a top-flight closer or set-up man. 

“My fastball never came back after surgery,” says DeJesus.

After four games at Double-A New Britain, Conn., in 1995, DeJesus spent parts of that season and all of 1996 in independent pro ball with the Alexandria (La.) Aces and the Rio Grande Valley White Wings in Harlingen, Texas.

DeJesus was with Alexandria again in 1997 and hooked on with the Chicago Cubs system, going 3-1 in eight games in 1997 and 5-5 in 1998 — both for High Class-A Daytona, Fla.

Stan Cliburn, twin brother of Stew and Alexandria manager in 1997, fondly recalls DeJesus.

“Great competitor and a winner when he toed the pitchers mound!,” says Cliburn. “Class act.”

Ricky VanAsselberg, who is now the general manager/field manager of the Acadiana Cane Cutters summer collegiate team in Lafayette, La., was an Alexandria teammate.

“I love Javi,” says VanAsselberg. “What a great guy. Great competitor.

“Warrior on the mound.”

It was Alan Dunn, Daytona pitching coach in 1997, that DeJesus learned the 3-2-1 pitch sequencing method that he employs with his young players to this day.

“He showed me that concept and it’s made a world of difference,” says DeJesus. “It gives you the opportunity to be your own pitching coach.”

The method begins with 12 pitches to various parts of the strike zone — inside and outside — and allows the pitcher to evaluate where is more or less consistent, where he is improving or regressing and where his mechanics can be altered to effect the release point.

DeJesus, who likes to take to Twitter to debunk modern training philosophy, is not a big fan of speed for speed’s sake.

“Look at players’ heart,” says DeJesus. “That can’t be quantified. They don’t play for numbers.

“Velocity is king now. To me that’s not pitching. That’s measurables. You have to integrate velocity and command. 

“If you have no clue where it’s going, what’s the purpose of training.”

When teaching his sons to hit, DeJesus has spent time listening to hitting coaches and it’s also helped him as pitching instructor.

“The more I know about hitting, the more I can help pitchers,” says DeJesus. “We can expose weaknesses.”

Puerto Rico-born Jose Santiago, a former big league pitcher and Daytona’s pitching coach in 1998, tried to get DeJesus to become a coach in the Cubs organization.

“I thought I still had some games to play,” says DeJesus. “I wanted to retire on my own terms and not someone else’s.”

The final three pro seasons for DeJesus were spent in independent ball — Nashua (N.H.) Pride in 1999, Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Black Diamonds in 2000 and Alexandria Aces in 2001.

The 2000 season is memorable because it wound up with the team living in tents when bankruptcy proceedings got them thrown out of area hotels.

New Orleans native Kim Batiste, who played on the Philadelphia Phillies World Series team in 1993, cooked for his teammates.

It was also in the Atlantic League that DeJesus got a valuable baseball lesson thanks to former big league slugger Ruben Sierra.

During a pro career that spanned 1983-2006, Puerto Rican Sierra was with the Atlantic City Surf in 1999 and rapped a few offerings from Nashua’s DeJesus.

Baseball lifer Doc Edwards was the Atlantic City manager. 

“Those are the guys who taught me how to pitch,” says DeJesus, who got a chance to talk baseball with those men deep into the night. “The conversation got me to understand what it is to pitch.

“Today, too many pitchers don’t call their own pitches. They don’t get to think for themselves.”

Javier DeJesus and his sons are involved with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Diamondbacks travel baseball organization.
Javier DeJesus was an All-American baseball player at Southwestern Louisiana University (now known as the University of Louisville-Lafayette).
Javier DeJesus with the Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins (Classic Best Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Rio Grande Valley White Wings.
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Baseball Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman (left) meets with Javier DeJesus. The latter played 10 years in pro baseball and lives in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Fort Wayne native Glant’s baseball odyssey lands back in Muskegon

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nate Glant’s personal and baseball odyssey has taken him far and wide.

The 2002 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wayne High School graduate pitched at Muskegon (Mich.) Community College and Aurora (Ill.) University.

After his playing career, Glant was a commercial fisherman and a rancher and spent time in Alaska, Wyoming and Oklahoma.

Drawn back to baseball, Glant became a coach. He owned and operated Trident Baseball Academy in Ardmore, Okla.

He served as pitching coach at Dawson Community College in Glendive, Mont. Catcher Reynoso Pichardo, who is now in the Texas Rangers system, was at Dawson when Glant was there.

One summer, Glant was associate head coach/pitching coach for the Cortland (N.Y.) Crush of the New York Collegiate Baseball League, where he coached Philadelphia Phillies draftee and 6-foot-7 right-hander Jake Kinney.

The 2018 and 2019 seasons saw him work as pitching coach/recruiting coordinator at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. Before he shined at the university of Michigan and was drafted by the Houston Astros, outfielder Jordan Brewer played at Lincoln Trail.

The 2020 season marks his first as head coach at Muskegon CC. The Jayhawks are NJCAA Region XII members and in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association Western Conference.

Gaskill played for Dave Fireoved then two years for Tim Gaskill (with assistants Adam Swinford and Timon Pruitt) as a Wayne General.

“(Coach Gaskill) is one of my biggest influences,” says Glant. “His practices were individualized and focused on results. He was ahead of his time. He showed that each player is different. It was not a cookie cutter system.

“You also don’t have to do fire and brimstone to get results.”

As a Muskegon player, Glant spent two seasons with head coach Carl “Cap” Pohlman, who played in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

“Coach Pohlman taught me a ton about doing things the right way,” says Glant. “We would work work on mental side of things. You don’t worry about things you can’t control.”

Aurora coach Shaun Neitzel took a combination of players from differing background — junior college transfers and NCAA Division I kick-backs — and got them to jell.

“They would buy into the culture pretty quickly to have success,” says Glant. “It was knowing the recipe to cook things up.”

Glant learned the think outside the box in Montana.

“Weather changes tremendously,” says Glant. “You had to make sure guys were still doing something to get better. It was quality over quantity.”

He cites Marc Rardin at Iowa Western College for showing the way to success in a cold weather state.

“It’s more of a mindset and practice planning and having your guys doing something productive,” says Glant. “Midwest teams must have a little more of a chip on their shoulder and a blue collar work ethic.”

At Lincoln Trail, Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers gave Glant much latitude while finding and developing players to compete in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference.

“It’s the toughest Division I JUCO conference in the Midwest,” says Glant, who sent Lincoln Trail against Wabash Valley, John A. Logan, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Kakaskia, Southwestern Illinois, Southeastern Illinois, Shawnee and Lake Land. “We would shake the trees and find the diamond in the rough.

“With the pitching staff, Coach Bowers let me sink or swim,” says Glant. “Fortunately, we had success. It set me up for where I am now, being a head coach.”

At Muskegon, Glant is a one-man band.

“We do not a big recruiting budget,” says Glant. “It’s good to have friends int he coaching industry and to bounce ideas off of them.

One resource for Nate is older brother Dustin Glant, who was pitching coach at Ball State University before taking a job in the New York Yankees organization after the 2019 season.

“Having Dustin as a brother is nice,” says Nate. “I can pick his brain and thoughts on things. He had a heck of a year at Ball State (the Cardinals went 38-19 and Drey Jameson was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks).”

When recruiting, Glant prefers to see players in-person.

“I want that eye test,” says Glant. “I can see the intangibles and how they interact with teammates.

Most players come from Michigan and many hails from the Grand Rapids and Traverse City areas.

“To me, it’s all about a fit,” says Glant. “I don’t like people writing off divisions because of the perception.”

He likes to have recruits work out for him and learn what makes them tick.

“I like the JC level,” says Glant. “I like the developmental side of it.”

Going to a junior college allows a player to grow athletically and academically.

While the NCAA has to abide by care hours, junior college players can work on their craft throughout the school year. They can play 20 games in the fall and 56 in the spring.

“They get a lot of game experience right away, which I think is big,” says Glant. “They are facing some of the best 17, 18, 19 year olds in the country.”

All his outposts have led Glant to be the coach he is.

“I’ve kind of been all over the place,” says Glant. “Getting into the coaching game so late has shaped my perception of connecting with a person regardless of age and working at a common goal.

“There’s no hierarchy here.”

Glant currently has 14 pitchers on his roster and would like to have 16 or 17 since he will take his arms into MCCAA doubleheaders on Fridays and Saturdays and mid-week non-conference games.

He is focused on arm care and keeping his hurlers healthy so they can go on to pitch at four-year schools and, perhaps, beyond.

“We don’t burn them up here,” says Glant. “We now know how the human body functions. Some guys are flexible. Some guys are not.”

Glant says he wants his players to understand the “why.”

“We want to execute,” says Glant. “Do not give an at-bat away. Control the running game. You’re trying to win games and get better. Throwing strikes and getting guys out is the name of the game

“How you do that shouldn’t matter.”

But it’s not all about the game for Glant.

“I want to mold these kids to be a good husbands, fathers, people down the road,” says Glant. “I want them be respectful and say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no mam’ and be productive members of society.”

It’s like the late University of Louisana-Lafayette head baseball coach Tony Robichaux often said: “Baseball is what they do. It’s not who they are.”

NATEGLANT

Nate Glant began his college baseball career at Muskegon (Mich.) Community College and he is now heading into his first season as the Jayhawks head coach.

 

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)