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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.

Baseball coach and instructor Christiansen developing leaders at Culver Military Academy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Teaching baseball and other skills in a college preparatory school is what Kurt Christiansen does in his roles as head baseball coach and humanities senior instructor at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy.

Christiansen has been at the school since the fall of 2008 and has led the Eagles baseball program since 2009 in all but one season, when he was finishing graduate school.

A 1997 graduate of Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Christiansen played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and was a top-notch football receiver.

His diamond teammates included two players selected in the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — A.J. Zapp (in the first round to the Atlanta Braves) and Nick Jamison (in the 31st round to the Detroit Tigers).

After earning his undergraduate degree at Indiana University, where he did not play sports, Christiansen did some student teaching in Australia. He then was a teacher and coached baseball and football for two years at Carmel (Ind.) High School.

Pamela Christiansen, Kurt’s wife went to law school at Valparaiso University, and got a job in South Bend, bringing the family to northern Indiana. Kurt was a teacher and coached baseball and football at NorthWood High School for four years before pursuing the opportunity to teach at CMA.

Christiansen describes the humanities as a combination of Language Arts and Social Studies in a traditional school.

“It’s pretty wonderful,” says Christiansen. “The kids are learning to read and write and think in a pretty interdisciplinary setting.”

Culver Military Academy offers what its website calls “a leadership approach that develops young men into leaders of character who are poised for global success in any career path.”

There is also a Culver Girls Academy. Together with CMA for boys, they form what is known as the Culver Academies.

Students come from far and wide.

While seven players had hometowns in Indiana, Culver’s 2018 roster featured athletes from Alaska, California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington as well as Korea.

Hayden Schott, an outfielder from Newport Beach, Calif., participated in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.

Schott plans to attend Cypress (Calif.) College. The junior college has a tradition of sending players on to NCAA Division I and professional baseball. Among those are former closer extraordinaire Trevor Hoffman (who will be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this weekend) and former big league third baseman Brandon Laird.

In recent years, CMA graduates Connor Bartelman (University of Chicago), Kyle Bartelman (Columbia University in New York), Shane Comiskey (Grinnell College in Iowa), Zach Moffett (Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.) and Perley Provost (Denison University in Granville, Ohio) have gone on to play college baseball.

Culver Academies has a college advising office, which helps students make connections at the university level.

“Ideally, a Culver kid is using baseball to help them find the best academic fit for them,” says Christiansen. “Baseball is part of what got them to the school. The end benefit is a world-class education.”

Christiansen knows that college coaches have often seen players through video, scouting or camps and they are calling him to fish out the story.

“One of the big benefits about being at Culver is that I know my players,” says Christiansen. “I see them on and off the field quite a bit. I have a pretty good sense of who they are.”

Christiansen says Culver Academies students are attractive to colleges not only because they are strong academically, but they’ve also learned to develop independence.

“They’re at a boarding school far from home and they’re figuring out how to take care of themselves,” says Christiansen. “All of that’s done before these colleges get them and that’s a real big bonus.”

It’s not a cookie-cutter approach taken by Christiansen and his fellow instructors.

“Like any school, kids are kids,” says Christiansen. “Each kid is a little bit different. So you’ve got to find ways to connect with them and teach them. But it helps that we’ve got kids who are committed to the mission of the school.

“How do I leverage baseball to deliver on that mission? That’s a question that the staff constantly asks of ourselves — not just to put kids in a position to compete and win baseball games and develop as athletes but develop dispositions and mindsets that will serve them in life.”

With no feeder program, Christiansen often does not know who he will have on his baseball team until school starts in the fall, though he does sometimes find out who has a baseball background during the admissions process.

“In almost 100 percent of the cases I’ve never seen them throw or hit,” says Christiansen. “I have to work pretty hard to recruit our own campus because there’s so many interesting and wonderful opportunities. Kids grow up playing Little League and they get to Culver and decide they want to try crew or lacrosse.

“I have to identify the baseball players and make sure they still want to come out and be part of the program.”

The school’s mission includes a wellness component and students not in a sport must do something to get exercise.

“Not all of our kids are premier athletes,” says Christiansen. “Hockey and lacrosse programs are elite. They’re really, really good — some of the best in the country.”

Baseball, which plays on Wilkins Field, is restricted by school policy from playing more than a couple of games during the school week with other contests on Saturdays. This means CMA schedules around 20 to 23 games or less than the 28 regular-season contests allowed by the IHSAA.

The Eagles went 10-9 and played in the IHSAA Class 3A Mishawaka Marian Sectional (along with Jimtown, John Glenn, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington) in 2018.

“We want to make sure our kids have plenty of time to study and they’re not out until 9 or 10 o’clock at night four or five nights in a row,” says Christiansen.

Being an independent, CMA often gets bumped when other schools must make up conference games.

Christiansen’s coaching staff includes three other senior humanities instructors — J.D. Uebler with the varsity and John Rogers and Andy Strati leading the junior varsity.

Kurt and Pamela Christiansen have three children — Jack (11), Sarah (10) and Joey (5).

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Culver (Ind.) Military Academy head baseball coach Kurt Christiansen with Hayden Schott at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.

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Kurt Christiansen is the head baseball coach and a humanities senior instructor at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy. He played high school baseball for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph at Center Grove. (Steve Krah Photo)