Tag Archives: Top Tier

Chicago-born lefty Djuraskovic takes circuitous baseball route

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cal Djuraskovic has had short daily commutes.
And one very long one.
Born in Chicago and raised on the city’s southeast side, Cal attended nearby Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, Ind. — the alma mater of his mother.
Before he could drive, Cal got to school by boarding the South Shore Line at the Hegewisch station. The train trip took a little over 30 minutes each way.
A few years later, Djuraskovic (pronounced Jur-Oss-Coe-Vich) found himself studying and playing baseball at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Not wishing to sign a long-term lease during the uncertainty of COVID-19 pandemic, Cal drove back and forth to school everyday. That’s a roundtrip of about 330 miles or five hours of windshield time.
“I did not want to get stuck,” says Djuraskovic. “I gave pitching lessons after practice to make up the money for gas.”
And that’s when gas could be had for about $2 a gallon.
A left-handed pitcher, Djuraskovic took a circuitous route to Davenport and wound up close to home as a professional ballplayer.
After a stint with the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, he finished the 2021 season with the Windy City ThunderBolts and is back with that indy Frontier League club in the Chicago suburb of Crestwood, Ill., in 2022.
“My whole life I wanted to be a pro ball player,” says Djuraskovic, 26. “By college I knew I can make it happen.”
Cal played outfield and had a little mound time at Bishop Noll before to his senior season, but it was that spring of 2014 that he blossomed as a pitcher. He threw a perfect game, a no-hitter and was named first-team all-Greater South Shore Conference.
His head coach for his first three seasons with the BNI Warriors was Paul Wirtz.
“He didn’t mess around,” says Djuraskovic of Wirtz. “It was a good thing. If you want to get better you have to take this game seriously.
“If you want to be a Warrior, you’ve got to act like one.”
He played travel ball with the Michigan Jets and competed against teams like Michigan Jets like the Indiana Bulls and Top Tier.
The southpaw of Serbian descent’s first college experience was at NCAA Division II Tiffin (Ohio) University. Deciding that wasn’t the right fit for him, he transferred to D-I Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Going from the D-II to a D-I, he was required to sit out a season as a “grayshirt” for 2016 and retained all his eligibility.
It was at CMU while building strength in the weight room that he broke knee cartilage that led to micro-fracture surgery. Then his scholarship was cut.
Cal landed on his feet with the D-II DU Panthers.
“By the grace of God I had Davenport,” says Djuraskovic, who played four years for head coach Kevin Tidey (Eric Lawrence was the pitching coach at the end of his DU days) and earned his degree in Sport Management with a minor in Business.
Used primarily out of the bullpen, Cal went 6-4 with a 4.04 earned run average at Davenport. It was in 2021 that he enjoyed his best season. He made 25 mound appearances and produced a 2.62 ERA with eight saves. In 44 2/3 innings, he struck out 61 and walked 16 and was named first-team all-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
He spent three summers in the Northwoods League — two stints in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., and one in Traverse City, Mich.
Along the way, Cal picked up a pitching mentor. It was during his time in the National Team Identification Series at USA Baseball headquarters in Cary, N.C., that he met Jim Hall.
Djuraskovic later went to his Hall’s house in Lockport, Ill., and he still occasionally gets pointers from him. Hall stays in-touch with Cal’s family.
“This man has definitely changed my life for the better,” says Djuraskovic of Hall, who is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association and Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame.
Cal’s mother is Allison Saberniak. Her father is Albert Saberniak, who turned Cal into a South Side baseball rooter.
“I’m a diehard White Sox fan,” says Djuraskovic. “I get that from my grandfather. We went to a couple of playoff games in ’05 (the year the White Sox won the World Series). We watch Cubs games to see them lose.
“But don’t get me wrong. If the Cubs gave me a contract I’d sign it in a heartbeat.”
Cal pitched in three games with Gary (one as a starter) and five with Windy City (all in relief) in 2021, going a combined 0-2 with two saves, a 1.59 ERA, 11 strikeouts and eight walks in 11 1/3 innings.
As a middle to late reliever for the ’22 ThunderBolts, Djuraskovic has no decisions and a 1.80 ERA in five games. He has eight strikeouts and three walks in five innings.
At 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds — he has trimmed down from 240 — Djuraskovic uses a three-quarter arm slot to deliver a four-seam fastball, slider, splitter and two-seam fastball.
His four-seamer has been clocked at 97 mph and sits at 92 to 94 mph.
Cal’s slider breaks “a little late and sharp.”
In his second full season of throwing it consistently, Djuraskovic learned his splitter from teammates and began doing as former splitter-throwing White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras by using a softball to stretch out the distance between his index and middle fingers.
“It has a mind of its own,” says Djuraskovic of the pitch that serves as a change-up. “Sometimes it gets a little knuckeballish. Sometimes it dives. The best I can do is try to spot it up.”
Lefty Cal’s two-seamer runs in on left-handed hitters.
Windy City, which is managed by Brian Smith, plays at Ozinga Field.
Djuraskovic has also enjoyed some Frontier League trips. He especially liked visits to the Florence (Ky.) Y’alls and Evansville (Ind.) Otters.
“I like the (Florence) area and they have a really nice ballpark,” says Djuraskovic. (Evansville’s Bosse Field) is so historic. You can feel the presence of greatness.”

Cal Djuraskovic (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)
Cal Djuraskovic (Davenport University Photo)
Cal Djuraskovic (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)

Cal Djuraskovic (left) embraces with catcher Manny Garcia after Djuraskovic “shut the door” June 15 to close out the game for the victorious Windy City ThunderBolts. (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)

Valpo U.’s Tucker took it to another level in 2022

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Tucker enjoyed a breakout collegiate baseball season at the plate in 2022.
The lefty-swinging Valparaiso (Ind.) University second baseman hit a team-best .365 (46-of-126) with one home run, one triple, 14 doubles 17 runs batted in and 21 runs scored for the NCAA Division I Beacons.
Tucker pinch hit for head coach Brian Schmack’s club in a March 15 game at Notre Dame became an everyday starter March 18 at Murray State. He was at the top of the batting order the last few games of the season.
He went 4-of-5 in the first game of a March 25 doubleheader vs. St. Bonaventure, 4-of-5 April 30 at Southern Illinois April 30, 4-of-4 May 20 at Evansville and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference first team. He was the first Valpo player since 2018 and second since the school joined the MVC to do that.
“This was years in the making,” says Tucker, 21. “I finally had a chance to showcase it.”
Prior to this spring, Tucker had only played in 20 college games. He made 16 appearances in 2020 before that season was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also the president of his dormitory — Brandt Hall.
After playing four games in 2021, he suffered a season-ending injury. He did earn Valparaiso University Presidential Academic Honors and the MVC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award and was on the MVC Honor Roll.
While he rehabilitated, Tucker took a deep dive into what he could do to boost his batting.
“I wanted to figure this hitting thing out and take it to next level,” says Tucker. “I was looking at videos and comparing myself to big leaguers.”
Tucker saw hitting coach Trey Hannam on social media, liked his profile and reached out to him and was soon making the 180-mile trek from Cedar Lake, Ind., to work with him in Milan, Ill.
Current Valpo assistants Kory Winter and Mitchell Boe and former assistant Casey Fletcher also played a part in Tucker’s transformation.
A 2019 graduate of Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, where he played for Wildcats head coach Ryan Bridges, Tucker was ranked among Indiana’s best shortstops and was four-year letterwinner and three-time all-conference selection.
With strong shortstops on the squad (including Benton Central High School graduate Alex Thurston), Tucker made the switch to second base at Valpo to get on the field and has come to love the position.
Tucker began wrestling early in elementary school. In high school, his head coaches were Mike Drosias as a freshman and Joshua Rowinski. There were to conference titles and a sectional championship.
He was in the 132-pound class as a sophomore in 2016-17 when he went 35-5 and qualified for the semistate then decided to focus on baseball and getting bigger and stronger and did not wrestle as a junior or senior.
“It’s a tough sport,” says Tucker of wrestling. “It’s physically and mentally demanding.
“The lessons I’ve learned from that sport I’ll carry with me forever.”
Tucker was born in Munster, Ind., and grew up in Cedar Lake. He played town ball and then went into travel baseball. He played for the St. John All-Stars, Playmakers, Chiefs, Top Tier, National Pitching Association and then the Dave Sutkowski-coached Morris Chiefs for his 17U summer.
“He’s made huge impact on me,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “He’s taught me a lot about the game, but more about life like being punctual, responsible and a leader.
“He was always there to reassure you and make you confident.
“It’s about the man you become.”
Tucker is scheduled to join the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators — managed by Chris Willsey — next Tuesday, May 7. He did not play in 2021 while rehabbing. He was with the Josh Galvan-coached Tropics of gthe College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2020. He also got to play for the Jorge Hernandez-managed Independence in the College Summer Baseball Invitational in Bryan/College Station, Texas, where he met fellow Region native and CSBI Unity manager LaTroy Hawkins.
Nolan had never met the 21-year major leaguer and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer but got connected through cousin and former Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and Morris Chiefs coach Jim Tucker.
In 2019, Nolan Tucker played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s St. Clair Green Giants in Windsor, Ont.
Tucker is a Business Management major. He is one year away from getting his undergraduate degree and has three more years of playing eligibility.
“I’ll definitely go two more,” says Tucker. “I’m on the bubble about the third year.”
Nolan is the oldest of Keith and Julie Tucker’s two children. Keith Tucker works for Team Industrial Services and Julie for Liveops. Daughter Kylin (18) is a 2022 Hanover Central graduate bound for Ball State University.

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Northwest Indiana natives LaTroy Hawkins and Nolan Tucker meet in Texas in 2020.