Tag Archives: Triple-A

Gary SouthShore RailCats embrace independent baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Outside the lines, professional baseball in Gary, Indiana, is very much like it is in many places.

Affordable family-friendly entertainment is the goal. Fans are invited to have a good time at the ballpark. The experience at U.S. Steel Yard includes food, giveaways and other forms of fun.

As a member of the independent American Association, the Gary SouthShore RailCats operate differently than Major League Baseball-affiliated clubs.

“It is not a developmental league, but it is an opportunity league — an opportunity for everyone from the radio broadcasters looking to break into professional baseball to groundkeepers to general managers and managers,” says 13th-year Gary manager Greg Tagert. “And, most importantly, it’s an opportunity for players who may have never gotten the opportunity to continue their careers or extend their careers.

“What it’s done for the industry cannot be underrated.”

But the emphasis is on the pennant race (Gary went into play Monday, Aug. 7, at 40-33 and seven games behind first-place Lincoln in the AA Central Division; the RailCats were two games out of the wild card lead in a 100-game season) and not getting a player ready for the next level.

“We make no apology to the players,” says Tagert. “We tell them from the beginning, we are all about winning.

“When a player steps through the door, it’s not about: Is he going to get his at-bats? Is he going to bat third? Is he going to pitch the sixth inning every night?

“Sometimes the players find that out the hard way. They’re used to a different type of format. They are surprised at the level of competition and the emphasis put on winning … It’s not for every player, just like it’s not for every manager.”

Tagert is a native of Vacaville, Calif. He a pitcher at San Francisco State University. He served as pitching coach at the University of New Mexico in 1988 and an associate scout for the Detroit Tigers in 1993-94.

A manager in independent baseball since 1995, Tagert enjoys the challenge of having the ability and the responsibility of building a team.

Unlike affiliated ball where players and coaching staff are assigned to a franchise and are told how to develop the talent with hopes of one day seeing them in the big leagues, Tagert makes all on-field personnel decisions.

“Player procurement and all the player decisions sit at this desk,” says Tagert. “That’s something I would not give up.

“It is the lure of the job for many of us (independent baseball managers) … The challenge is great. But it’s like anything else in life. If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

League rules limit rosters to 23. An additional one player may be on the disabled list during the regular season. Of those 23 players, a maximum of five may be veterans and minimum of five must be rookies. The remaining players will be designated limited service players and of those LS players only six (6) may be LS-4.

Tagert says the classifications create a unique kind of parity in the league and also creates opportunity.

The American Association is full of players with MLB experience and others who played at the Triple-A or Double-A level.

Right-handed pitcher Jorge DeLeon, a reliever for Gary, played for the Houston Astros in 2013 and 2014.

MLB scouts regularly cover the independent leagues.

Notable Gary alums include outfielders Jermaine Allenworth and Nathan Haynes and left-handed pitcher Tim Byrdak.

Allensworth, who played at Madison Heights High School and Purdue University, was a first round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993 and played in the big leagues with Pittsburgh, the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. He was with the RailCats in 2006 and 2007.

Haynes was a first round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 1997. He played in Gary in 2006 and then with the Los Angeles Angels in 2007 and Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.

Byrdak made his MLB debut with Kansas City in 1998. He played in Gary in 2003 and became the first former RailCats player to play in the big leagues with the 2005 Baltimore Orioles.

Wes Chamberlain, who played six MLB seasons including in the 1993 World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies, was a RailCat in 2003.

Some players to see at least a little MLB time that also wore a Gary jersey include first baseman Randall Simon (2010), third basemen Howard Battle (2003) and Jarrod Patterson (2008), outfielders Trey Beamon (2004), and Bubba Carpenter (2002, left-handed pitchers Tony Cogan (2007-09), Jim Crowell (2007), Brad Halsey (2010), Onan Masaoka (2009), right-handed pitchers Zach McClellan (2010) and Brad Voyles (2008).

Crowell played at Valparaiso High School and the University of Indianapolis. McClellan played at Indiana University.

There’s were Australian first baseman Ben Risinger (2005) and Japanese outfielder Masato Fukae (2016).

Texas Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce was a former RailCats outfielder (2004-05).

The team has retired No. 23 for right-handed pitcher Willie Glen (2005-07, 2010) and No. 45 for Gary native and coach Joe Gates. Glen played at Plainfield High School and the University of Evansville. Gates played at Gary Roosevelt High School and briefly with the Chicago White Sox.

The RailCats were part of former Northern League and began as a road team in 2002 while 6,139-seat U.S. Steel Yard was being constructed along U.S. 20, South Shore rail lines and I-90 (Indiana Toll Road) and very close to the steel mills.

The first RailCats game at U.S. Steel Yard was May 26, 2003.

Chicagoans Pat and Lindy Salvi bought the team in 2008.

Gary was a member of the Northern League through 2010 and won league titles in 2005 and 2007. In 2010, the RailCats joined the American Association and reigned over it in 2013.

The current AA lineup includes Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.), St. Paul (Minn.), Sioux Falls (S.D.) and Winnipeg (Manitoba) in the North Division, Gary, Kansas City (Kan.), Lincoln (Neb.) and Sioux City (Iowa) in the Central Division and Cleburne (Texas), Salina (Kan.), Texas (Grand Prairie) and Wichita (Kan.) in the South Division. Salina is a partial road team in 2017.

Gary takes a bus to all its games. It’s about 16 hours to both Grand Prairie and Winnipeg. There’s usually days off built into he schedule to allow for that kind of travel.

A commuter trip will be added in 2018 when the Rosemont, Ill.-based Chicago Dogs join the league.

RailCats general manager Brian Lyter is in his fifth year on the job after working four seasons in affiliated baseball with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers.

With Tagert handling most of the baseball side of things, Lyter tends mostly to the business side.

Lyter has watched the community embrace the independent baseball model while embracing the amenities at the park.

In a competitive Chicagoland market that offers the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and many other entertainment options, the RailCats draw well with most fans come from northwest Indiana.

Through it’s first 37 openings, Gary was averaging 3,573. That ranked fourth in the league behind St. Paul (8.293), Winnipeg (4,336) and Kansas City (3,984).

Some of the things Lyter appreciates about the American Association is that players have a “little more staying power” and that the product is top notch.

“Some people underestimate the quality of baseball,” says Lyter, who compares the overall level of play to Double-A.

GARYSOUTHSHORERAILCATS

West Terre Haute ‘good guy’ Lucas continues to learn the pro baseball life

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Lucas wants to move up to the big leagues just like any other Triple-A baseball player.

Lucas is not like every minor leaguer in the way he involves himself with the community.

The West Terre Haute, Ind., native is known to spend hours signing autographs or visiting children in the hospital. He has done it as he’s moved up the chain in the Cleveland Indians organization and he does it as a catcher/first baseman for the International League’s Columbus Clippers.

“It’s always good for me to get a perspective and worry less about my problems,” says Lucas, who plans to get even more involved in the community as he and wife Kelsey (the couple was married in Terre Haute in December 2016 and former Indiana State University teammates were part of the wedding party) spend the off-season in Columbus.

On the field, Lucas is soaking up as much knowledge as he can while making the most of his chances as a bench player. Through games of July 20, the sixth-year professional has appeared in 16 games during the 2017 season. He appeared in four games for Columbus after 95 with Double-A Akron in 2016.

“There’s a lot to learn,” says Lucas, 26. “There’s lot of veteran guys here. I see how other guys go about their business.”

Lucas began learning the business in 2012. After earning ISU’s first Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year award in the spring of ’12, he was taken by the Indians in 12th round of that summer’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his first pro stop in the New York-Penn League at Mahoning Valley.

A catcher much of his baseball life, Lucas has learned to play other places on the diamond.

“Once you start moving up in levels, versatility is a big thing,” says Lucas. “When I get my opportunities, I need to take advantage of them.

“I just try to go about my work the same everyday. I catch bullpens, take BP, do whatever I can keep up with the speed of the day, which can be difficult when you’re not playing everyday.”

Even used on the mound five times this season, Lucas is 1-0 as a pitcher.

Lucas was a West Terre Haute Little League all-star prior to high school, played with various travel baseball teams including the Indiana Bulls and one summer for Terre Haute American Legion Post 346.

The 2009 West Vigo High School graduate played his prep baseball for Steve DeGroote, a 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee.

“He taught me a lot of things about the game and lot of things about life,” Lucas says of DeGroote. “He was one of the most inspirational guys I’ve had in my career along with my dad (Mike Lucas).

“It was an honor that I got to play for (Coach DeGroote). I owe a lot of what I am now.

You knew what he wanted out of his players. He treated us like men even though some of us might not have been yet.

“He taught us how to play the game right. He was all about being a good person.”

Lucas fondly recalls his final high school season and how DeGroote pushed the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish with Lucas being named L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner.

“Every year he would tell us the same thing: This is the best team I’ve ever had on paper,” says Lucas. “My senior year — the best year we’ve ever had in West Vigo history — he never once said it. He was harder on us that year than any of my four years. He was hard on us. But he knew we had a special team and he wasn’t going to take it easy on us. He wasn’t going to let us get big heads.”

Lucas remembers the 2009 team showing up at the school each morning at 6:30 and working to get better even after the regular season was underway.

Mike Lucas, an accountant and lawyer in Terre Haute, has also taught work ethic to his ball-playing son.

“Nothing’s going to be given to you. You have to go out and take it,” says Jeremy of his father’s advice. “I wouldn’t be where I am today with all my dad’s done for me.

“He’s always been there for me.”

Lucas played three years of college baseball at ISU in Terre Haute. Then-Sycamores head coach Rick Heller (now head coach at the University of Iowa) taught his standout receiver about being a good teammate.

It is a lesson he practices in pro baseball, where things are very competitive at the upper levels with players fighting for playing time and the right to move up.

Lucas says it took him some time to adjust to the team dynamic in the minors.

“What I’ve learned is if you’re making your teammates better and you’re making yourself better, that’s the best of both worlds,” says Lucas. “I’ve been on teams that don’t have a lot of guys that do that and I been on teams that do

“It’s a lot more enjoyable when all the guys have the same mindset.”

The nature of Triple-A baseball is plenty of roster moves caused by injuries, trades and on-field performance. That’s given Lucas a chance to meet new faces and to begin pulling with that player.

“When guys move up or down, they just fit right in,” says Lucas. “It’s about being a good teammate and being a good guy.”

JEREMYLUCAS

Jeremy Lucas, a 2009 West Vigo High School graduate, began his professional baseball career in 2012 and his now at Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland Indians organization. (Columbus Clippers Photo)

 

Pro baseball vet Grube looks at 2017 as ‘tale of two tapes’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of scenery can be just what a ballplayer needs.

Even if that scenery is familiar territory.

Jarrett Grube — traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Cleveland Indians organization in mid-June — is pushing the baseball re-fresh button in a return engagement with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers.

Grube, who grew up in Corunna, Ind., and graduated from DeKalb High School (where he played for head coach Chris Rhodes) in 2000, was the Opening Day starter for the International League’s Buffalo Bisons and made 11 starts with that Toronto affiliate before becoming Cleveland property for the third time in his career.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander played for Columbus in 2015 after a stint with Quintana Roo in the Mexican League in 2015 and again in 2016 after time with the Pacific Coast League’s Tacoma Rainiers in the Seattle Mariners organization.

Going into a start Saturday, July 22, Grube was 3-5 overall with a 4.70 earned run average in 16 starts, including 1-2 and 1.69 in five starts for the Clippers. He came off the 7-day disabled list July 16 (right-hand discomfort).

“Things weren’t going my way for whatever reason,” says Grube. “I just call it the ’tale of two tapes.’ Now I’m back over here doing what I’ve always done.”

What Grube has done when successful is keep the opposition off-balance.

“I’m not even thinking about mechanics,” says Grube. “It all just happens fluidly and easily. I’m throwing a lot of strikes and mixing my pitches and keeping the hitters guessing on what’s coming in different counts.”

As a free agent veteran, the Indians brought Grube back because of his track record at the Triple-A level.

“They support you and give you info about the hitters so you can have success,” says Grube. “When you’ve been around for awhile, they let you keep doing your program. As long as you communicate, they support you.”

Between starts, Grube does a longer running session with stretching, some weightlifting and works with a trainer on Day 1. The second day includes long toss, a bullpen session and heavier total-body lifting with two days of recovery before the start. Day 3 is about stretching things out and getting rid of built-up lactic acid. Day 4 is devoted to rest and stretching.

Grube, who played at Vincennes University for head coach Jerry Blemker (who died in 2012) and at the University of Memphis for for head coach Dave Anderson, was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his lone MLB appearance with Los Angeles Angels in 2014 (he retired Josh Donaldson and gave up a three-run home run to Yoenis Cespedes).

One thing that’s kept Grube from being predictable is his ability to change arm angles.

It all just flows.

“When I’m at my best, I’m not really thinking about anything,” says Grube. “I’m throwing every pitch I want to throw in any count and getting a lot of weak contact, maybe strikeout an inning for however many innings I pitch.”

As a 14th-year professional, Grube has learned plenty.

“You learn to grow as a player,” says Grube. “Sometimes you have to take lumps and be able to turn the page pretty quick. You sit and dwell on things, I know that. There’s going to be a lot of things that are out of your control that.

“You just keep on with what you’ve got pictured in your mind that you want to accomplish.”

Grube has been a starting pitcher in Triple-A. If he gets called up to the big leagues, his role would likely be out of the bullpen.

“I’ve got the stuff to relieve, too, for sure,” says Grube.

Born in Fort Wayne (where he lives in the off-season with wife Alyssa and daughter Ensley), Grube’s early diamond days were spent in the Tri-County Little League and in AAU ball. He was a member of the Aboite Braves, coached by Brett Ratcliffe (who is now head coach at Garrett High School).

Grube credits Blemker helping to make him mentally tough, something that has helped him ever since.

“He’d say some things that would make you upset or frustrated,” says Grube, who won 12 games and struck out a then-school-record 172 batters in two seasons with the VU Trailblazers. “He was kind of like a drill sergeant. But he was doing it in a fatherly way. He was trying to get the best out of me. He was lying the foundation for me to go to D-I and then pro ball.”

Grube gained wisdom from Anderson, who played 10 MLB seasons including with the World Series-winning 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers and went on to coach and manage in pro baseball.

JARRETTGRUBE

Jarrett Grube, a 2000 DeKalb High School graduate, is in his 14th professional baseball season in 2017. (Columbus Clippers Photo)

 

Froedge makes success an expectation at Crawfordsville

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the heart of Montgomery County is a high school baseball program that’s hard to beat.

John Froedge has been coach at Crawfordsville since age 23 in 1982. His pitching coach and brother-in-law Rhett Welliever is in his 32nd year with the Athenians.

“We have something kind of unique here for a small community,” says Froedge. “Kids who come into the baseball program expect success so they work hard.

“Any of the programs that have had long-standing success have a formula. This is how we do Crawfordsville baseball and these are the expectations.”

The cornerstones of the Athenian way have always been structure, discipline and a love of baseball. With continued success came tradition and expectation.

In the past 26 seasons, Crawfordsville has won 14 IHSAA sectionals, five regionals, two semesters and two Class 3A state championships as well as 20 Sagamore Conference titles.

The Athenians raised the state trophy by besting Mishawaka Marian twice — 5-1 in 2008 and 8-3 in 2011.

C-ville has earned at least 20 victories in 21 of those 26 campaigns. The average record during the span is 24-8.

The 2016 Athenians went 25-5 and won the conference title, but not the sectional. For the first time since 2003-05, Crawfordsville has gone three straight seasons minus a sectional crown.

“We’ve got a bunch of really hungry seniors,” says Froedge of the 2017 squad. “We’ve virtually got the entire team back.”

While proud of the tradition, Froedge deflects from the stress of keeping it going.

“They don’t want to be the first group to go through here and not win something big,” says Froedge. “I tell them ‘Just play the game. There is no pressure. You’re not playing for the legacy. You’re not playing for the past. This is your team.’

“I want them to experience that success at the end of the year. But they’re not going to get it if they’re all uptight about it.”

Froedge, a 1976 Southmont High School graduate, is bearing down on 750 career victories. He is in select company among active Indiana high school coaches. Andrean’s Dave Pishkur is in the 900-win club. Twin Lakes’ Jake Burton has surpassed 800 while Froedge, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Indianapolis Scecina’s Dave Gandolph and Jasper’s Terry Gobert have all surpassed 700. All six are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Froedge’s induction coming 2010.

Early in Froedge’s career, he saw success happening at places like Jasper and LaPorte and said why not Crawfordsville, too? He made it a point to take to LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber when attending the IHSBCA State Clinic each winter.

“When you’re trying to build your program, you find out who try to talk to the best,” says Froedge, who also learned about the game while playing for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.

All but one of Crawfordsville’s IHSBCA North/South All-Star selections — Damon Brown (1978) — have come with Froedge in charge. The others are Matt McCarty (1994), Brett Motz (1995), Adrian Norris (2002), Brandon Moore (2004), Ross Wheeler (2006), Andrew Swart (2008), Brett McKinney (2009), Steven Rice (2010), Cory Rice (2011), Caleb Rasmussen (2012) and Jordan Jackson (2013).

Many Athenians have gone on to play college baseball, but not many at the NCAA Division I level. A couple of exceptions are left-handed pitchers Cameron Hobson and Steven Rice.

When Crawfordsville won the 3A state crown in 2008, Hobson (win) and Rice (save) handled pitching duties in topping Marian.

Hobson went on to pitch for the University Dayton. His professional career took him as far as Triple-A. Rice was a part of Vanderbilt University’s 2014 College World Series champions.

“It sounds cliche, but we’re a team,” says Froedge. “Year in and year out, we’re not the most athletic, the most gifted. We develop strong pitching — and it’s no different this year — but it’s everybody pulling together and working for a common cause.

“We have kids that are super loyal to the program. We have had kids do well by working hard together.”

Kids coming up through feeder programs like Crawfordsville Youth Baseball (CYB-Crawfordsville Youth Baseball on Facebook) and Crawfordsville Middle School dream of one day playing for the Athenian varsity.

There’s also a real family feel. John’s wife Debbie is always around. Son Brandon Froedge, who played for C-ville in the 1990’s, left the baseball staff last year to help assistant his sister Britney Carpenter in her role as Crawfordsville’s head softball coach.

John has been at it long enough that he can now say he has coached several fathers and sons in the royal blue and yellow gold.

Welliever, whom John calls a “baseball junkie” has been pitching daily batting practice for decades.

“One day we counted and he threw 750 pitches,” says Froedge. “He’ll throw to the whole roster multiple times and come back the next day and do it again.”

Tony Bean, Tommy Coy, Daryl Hobson and Connor Smith are also trusted assistants for the Athenians. Justin Dugger is in his 20th season of doing multiple jobs for the team. Bob Taylor has been shooting video of every game for the past 25 years or so.

The current CHS school building opened in 1993-94 and Athenians moved from Miligan Park/Baldwin Field (the program’s home field when it won sectional trophies in 1967, 1970, 1971 and 1974) to the on-campus facility in 1995.

“We’ve got a really beautiful field and the kids do all the work,” says Froedge.

In the Sagamore Conference, Crawfordsville meets Danville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone. Many non-conference games are against bigger schools and the Athenians go to Tennessee at the beginning of the season seeking the best competition available. The final of the C-ville tournament April 15 pitted 3A No. 1 Crawfordsville against 4A No. 1 Carmel (won 13-5 by the visitors).

JOHNFROEDGE

John Froedge is in his 36th season as head baseball coach at Crawfordsville High School. The Indiana Hugh School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer is bearing down on his 750th career victory. His Athenians won Class 3A state titles in 2008 and 2011.