Tag Archives: UIndy

Post-surgery, Burnett out to prove that he can still pitch

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

This is not the path Alec Burnett envisioned when he graduated from Columbus (Ind.) East High School in 2018.
He saw himself going to college to become a physical therapist.
Burnett didn’t know at the time that he would change his major. Nor did he realize he was still going to work with P.T.’s, only he would be the patient.
Born with an extra tricep in his right arm, Burnett began having pain when his arm muscles grew. The muscle slip was entwined with the ulnar nerve in his elbow, causing numbness and pain as he pitched for the University of Indianapolis baseball team.
“I was experiencing extreme pain,” says Burnett. “It was if it was hitting my funny bone 1,000 times. We weren’t sure what it was. I knew it was on the outside of my arm. It felt muscular.
“And it was taking my 88 to 90 mph (fastball) down to 80 to 84 mph. But as frustrating as that was I was still getting outs so we kept rolling with it.”
Bulked up to 205 pounds from 160 when he entered college, the distance between the muscle and nerves for Burnett had narrowed.
Add to that the violent motion that comes with pitching a baseball and something had to give and the condition revealed itself.
“It’s not if you’re going to get hurt, it’s when you’re going to get hurt,” says Burnett. “That motion is just not sustainable.”
A posterior shoulder impingement caused Burnett to sit out the 2019 UIndy season as a redshirt.
He tossed two innings for the Greyhounds before the 2020 campaign was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, Burnett had a role to fill on the Indianapolis staff.
“I was the jam guy or fireman or whatever you want to call it,” says Burnett, who ripped five or six pitches in the bullpen then came into a high-intensity situation on short notice. “There might be runners on second and third with one out in a one-run ball game and I’d come in and mitigate the damage.
“I did tremendous out of that role.”
Pitching through pain, Burnett worked in 13 games and 19 innings in 2021 and went 2-0 with 3.79 earned run average, 30 strikeouts and 11 walks for then-pitching coach Landon Hutchison. His WHIP (walks and hit per innings pitched) was 1.263.
Burnett did not pitch in the summer of 2021.
“It was my hope that rest is what my arm needed,” says Burnett.
But with the beginning of velocity training before going to back college, the pain was back in a big way.
“As soon as I picked up a baseball it hurt more than it ever had,” says Burnett. “I knew I had to get it checked out.”
Through a teammate, Burnett consulted with well-respected Cincinnati-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. Timothy Kremchek and a nerve specialist.
The tricep slip was discovered through Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
An EMG (Electromyography) was done to see the location of disturbance in the nerve pathway.
Burnett was told that surgery was indicated if he wanted to continue in the game.
“It was an easy decision for me,” says Burnett. “I was told if you want to pitch after college (teams) want to see that this is fixed. I love baseball and I love playing baseball. Maybe more than that I love the competition in general. Competition is wanting to be the best version of yourself.
“If I didn’t get that nerve pathway fixed I wasn’t going to be at my best. And with the pain, it hard to focus on the game.”
Ulnar nerve transposition surgery was set for Sept. 21, 2021 in Cincinnati.
The recovery was rough.
“I would not wish nerve pain on anyone,” says Burnett. “I just sat on the couch and cried.
“It was like having your arm over a bonfire and you can’t move it.”
Even so, he started the rehabilitation process the next day and was determined to be ready to pitch for UIndy when the 2022 season opened in February.
“It was a point I wanted to make to myself,” says Burnett. “It wasn’t coming from anybody else.”
Led by athletic trainer Makenna McAteer, Burnett went to PT three or four times a week.
“She went far beyond athletic training,” says Burnett of McAteer. “She got me out of the rut I was in.”
McAteer also put Burnett in-touch with sports psychologist Nate Foster.
“There was a a bunch of bruising and swelling and my range of motion was very, very limited (after surgery),” says Burnett. “I could not bend elbow back and forth at first. I was told to move it as much as I could as soon as I could. I could not afford to lose much range of motion.
“At the beginning, I bet I couldn’t squeeze any hard than an infant. It was that bothered.”
He did his best to get back in the weight room with his teammates. As soon as the incision was closed up, he was working his legs and the left side of his body.
Burnett first threw a baseball in Nov. 15.
“My buddies were so amped up for me,” says Burnett. “That was the cool part.”
He pitched a scoreless frame in the Greyhounds’ season-opening series at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. The “Real Feel” temperature on Feb. 20 was 17 degrees.
“I didn’t have a great year,” says Burnett, who went on to toss 11 2/3 innings over 15 games with an 0-1 mark, one save and 4.63 earned run average while striking out 18 and walking 16. “My struggling performance was a physical issue until I had several in a row, leading to the issue becoming a mental struggle.
“I wouldn’t change anything about this season. This season tested me as a ballplayer and a person. I am now better for it, knowing who I am and just what I am capable of.”
Burnett, 22, has earned several honors for his work in the classroom, including four times Academic All-Great Lakes Valley Conference, twice a GLVC Brother James Gaffney FSC Distinguished Scholar and recipient of a GLVC Council of Presidents’ Academic Excellence Award.
He graduated from UIndy and will pursue a Masters of Business Administration and play baseball as a graduate transfer at Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., in 2022-23.
“It’s the best fit for me,” says Burnett of the NCAA Division I program he connected with through his 2022 summer team, the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. “I’m going to have a role. They play a they play a crazy out of conference schedule. I’ll get a chance to play very good college baseball programs.
“I’ll be an MBA student in the business hub of the world. I’ve never been to New York. I’m taking a big leap. But I know I can figure it out.”
With the Rafters, he’s already logged 16 innings in 13 games and is 1-0 with two saves and a 2.25 ERA. He has struck out 26 and walked 10.
Born and raised in Columbus, Alec (22) is the middle child of construction worker Rob and Columbus East teacher Michelle Burnett.
Older sister Jade (25) graduated from Columbus East in 2014 and Franklin (Ind.) College in 2018 and is married and living in the Center Grove area. Younger sister Kyra (16) is heading into her junior year at Columbus East.
Alec played for Olympians head baseball coach Jon Gratz. One of his travel ball stops was with the Indiana Twins where he developed with pitching coach Scott Haase.

Alec Burnett (Jordan Menard/University of Indianapolis Photo)
Alec Burnett’s 2021 elbow surgery.
Alec Burnett’s 2021 elbow surgery.
Alec Burnett’s 2021 elbow surgery.
Alec Burnett’s 2021 elbow surgery.
Alec Burnett’s 2021 elbow surgery.
Alec Burnett (Jordan Menard/University of Indianapolis Photo)

UIndy ‘late bloomer’ Rivas grows into D-II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year

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

University of Indianapolis sophomore left-hander Xavier Rivas was named 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings NCAA Division II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder in his second year in the Greyhounds starting rotation went 7-0 with a 2.24 earned run average, 128 strikeouts and 31 walks in 80 1/3 innings over 12 games. His WHIP (walks and hits allowed by innings pitched) was 0.98. Opponents hit .170 off the southpaw.
All this from someone who refers to himself as a “late bloomer.”
“The winter before my senior year I was throwing 78 to 82 mph, but I wanted to play (in college),” says Rivas, a 2020 Portage (Ind.) High School graduate. “I didn’t want to go and sit.
“I was a big kid but I hadn’t grown into my body.”
Rivas made a visit to UIndy, threw a bullpen for the coaches and was offered a spot on the team.
“The rest is history,” says Rivas, who credits several people for his ascension.
The winter before his junior year at Portage, Rivas began training with Joe Plesac (who was the pitching coach at Andrean High School Merrillville, Ind.).
“My dad go word of him through my strength coach in Valparaiso (Bub Pullins, whose son Gunnar Pullins was a senior first baseman on the Olivet Nazarene University team in 2022),” says Rivas.
At UIndy, Rivas has learned from head coach Al Ready and two pitching coaches — first Landon Hutchison and then Adam Cornwell. Trevor Forde is another Greyhounds assistant.
“He’s big on trust,” says Rivas of Ready. “He’s do anything for the players.
“It’s nice hearing his opinion. He was a real good hitter.”
Hutchison assisted the lefty with his mechanics and Cornwell with the mental side of things.
“When I came I had a real robotic back-side arm action,” says Rivas. “(Hutchison) was a big numbers guy. We used Rapsodo (cameras) and he taught me my slider.
“(Cornwell) played some pro ball and at UIndy. He’s taught me a lot. He’s helped me with some mechanical cues that added on a few miles per hour.”
Throwing from a three-quarter arm angle, Rivas employs a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and change-up.
During the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament with warm temperatures that the Greyhounds rarely saw in 2022 (he only pitched two times with the game-time thermometer reaching 60 and one start it was 17 with the wind chill), Rivas was above to get a sweat going on the mound and get his four-seamer up to 92 mph.
“We would have themes for bus rides,” says Rivas. “One time it a beach theme and we wore shorts and flip-flops. When we left Indianapolis it was in the 60s or 70s. It was in the 40s when we got there.
“That’s the nature of the beast in the Midwest. It’s bipolar weather.”
Rivas delivers his curve over the top close to 12-to-6 on the clock face.
In an attempt to “tunnel” his pitches, he wants them to look the same coming out of his hand and as they near the plate then they move in different ways.
Throwing his slider and change-up around the same speed — 80 to 84 mph — he tries to get the slider to dive down and to the right back foot of right-handed hitters. The change-up goes away from righties.
Rivas played one varsity season for Portage head coach Bob Dixon in 2019 (the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic).
“He was an older school guy and a nice guy,” says Rivas of Dixon.
The pitcher underwent knee surgery from a wrestling injury and played junior varsity ball as a Portage sophomore.
Wrestling is a big deal in Xavier’s family. His father Jeremy Rivas went to the IHSAA State Finals three times and was a state runner-up at 125 pounds as a Portage senior in 1993.
Jeremy coached at Hobart (Ind.) High School and helped Alex Ramos to a pair of state titles (1999 at 119 and 2000 at 125) and a fifth-place finish (1998 at 119).
Xavier Rivas wrestled from sixth through ninth grade for Portage (Leroy Vega was his high school coach). A torn meniscus as a sophomore put an end to his mat career.
“I knew baseball was my future,” says Rivas, who was coaxed by friends to play football as a senior. He was a wide receiver and tight end for the Indians in the fall of 2018.
Rivas did some powerlifting as early as high school freshman, but nothing was organized.
“When I got to college I saw how strong everyone was,” says Rivas. “I’m very competitive. I wanted to be the strongest one on the team.”
He got serious about lifting and began getting workouts from friend and competitive lifter Aaron Blake and went heavy with all his lifts when there was a two-month break at UIndy during the winter of 2020-21.
“I got up to 230 pounds,” says Rivas.
A Mechanical Engineering major, Rivas expects to graduate in five years. He is heading into his true junior year. He did not get an extra year of eligibility since he was not in college during the pandemic.
He took a heavy course load during his freshman season — 18 hours — and struggled while doing all online courses and being on the road frequently with the baseball team.
“I tried to study on the bus but that didn’t work,” says Rivas.
This year has been better with in-person classes and 17 hours in the fall and 15 in the spring.
“That was much better,” says Rivas, who mentors freshmen teammates so they don’t suffer the same as he did.
This summer, Rivas is with the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.
Looking for innings, he spent part of the summer of 2021 playing American Legion ball for the South Haven Post 502 Blaze. He spent part of the previous summer with the Midwest Irish.
Born in Hobart, Rivas grew up in South Haven and moved to Portage in the middle of his sixth grad year.
He started at South Haven Little League at 4. He was playing there and in travel ball at 9. The Portage Tribe and Morris Chiefs were two of his other travel ball teams.
Xavier’s mother is Nina Rivas. Sister Mya Rivas (18) is a 2022 Portage graduate who is headed to Purdue University.

Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)

Managing relationships key for UIndy baseball assistant Forde

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

Trevor Forde saw the game from behind the mask as a player.
The University of Indianapolis assistant baseball coach knows what makes catchers tick.
Evanston (Ill.) High School graduate Forde (pronounced Ford like the car) was a backstop and played for former catchers Nate Metzger at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., and Gary Vaught and Al Ready at UIndy.
After competing for Frank Consiglio and graduating from Evanston in 2011, Forde played for two National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series qualifiers (2012 and 2013) with Metzger.
“Coach Consiglio taught me to put in the work,” says Forde. “The guys that out-work you will have more success.
“(Metzger, who is now associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Wright State University) gave me my first look and passion for coaching college baseball. He’s a special human.”
Forde played for Vaught at NCAA Division II Indianapolis in 2015 and 2016 and then went right into coaching, beginning with as a graduate assistant in 2017 and 2018. He holds a bachelor’s degree and masters in Sport and Fitness Administration/Management from UIndy.
Former Indianapolis backstop and longtime assistant Ready became head coach of the Greyhounds beginning with the 2019 season.
“(Vaught and Ready) solidified that thought of coaching,” says Forde. “There’s a lot to be said why catchers get into the coaching realm. They see the whole field
“They are really good at managing relationships. They work with all the pitchers. That guy steps out on the mound and he believes in you. You have that connection.”
Forde says that ties in with coaching.
“You’re dealing with so many personalities and getting guys to trust you,” says Forde.
Many hats are worn by Forde the coach. He is in charge of Hounds catchers and also helps develop hitters and plays a big part in recruiting.
“Since catcher is my former position, I take a lot of pride it that,” says Forde. “We’ve got a pretty good catching core.
“In the simplest of forms I always tell catchers to make strikes strikes and we want to win the border line pitch. We’ve got to put ourselves in position to present the ball to the umpire well. We want to be on-time and have a subtle movement to manipulate the ball back to center.”
Forde says every college catcher has to be able to control the running game.
Throwing out would-be base stealers is one thing, but Forde shares the philosophy shared by Bellarmine University coach Larry Owens about limiting steal attempts.
“That resonates with me,” says Forde. “We can show arm strength. The word can get out (to runners). If you limit the amount of attempts, the number of stolen bases is going to be reduced.”
Forde says recruiting at this time of year is not as intense at the D-II level as it is in the summer and fall.
“We’re tying up loose ends with guys we’ve had contact with and late bloomers,” says Forde. “Next year’s recruiting class is pretty much wrapped up for us.”
In dealing with recruits, Forde tells it like it is.
“We’re going to be brutally honest at times with guys,” says Forde. “We won’t present ideas that aren’t realistic. The more honest you can be with the guy — and especially with their parents — the better.
“There are no grey areas. We are blunt at times.”
UIndy is part of the Great Lakes Valley Conference with teams in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. Those three states plus Ohio, Kentucky and Wisconsin are at the core of the Greyhounds’ recruiting territory though the 2022 online roster also lists players from Canada and Colombia.
“We’re doing a pretty good job getting in the right players who believe in what we’re trying to do,” says Forde. “We need guys who are the right fit.”
In this COVID-19 pandemic era with players taking extra years of eligibility, Forde says it is important to know the players’ intentions about coming back or moving on.
“He might (repeatedly) say ‘I’m coming back’ then he gets a job offer,” says Forde. “As baseball coaches we brought him into our institution to get a degree.”
Forde and Ready are seeking well-rounded players and place a premium on defense.
“Coach Ready said it best — we’ve got to play both ends of the game,” says Forde. “At some positions I’d take a lesser bat with a plus-glove. The game is meant to be pitching and defense. You’re only as good as that guy that you roll out on the bump.
“I want my pitcher to be confident. If the ball is in-play their defense is going to make the play.”
The Greyhounds go for moundsmen that understand how to pitch and that contact is not a bad thing.
“We’re looking for bulldogs — guys that aren’t going to shy away from the moment,” says Forde. “That stems from our preparation. We teach guys how to pitch and how to read swings.
“We want a complete pitcher.”
Adam Cormwell is UIndy’s pitching coach. Scott Holdsworth is a volunteer assistant. Jacob Christie is a graduate assistant. The support staff includes athletic trainer Makenna McAteer, strength and conditioning coach Andrew Fallon and sports information GA Brady Budke.
Indianapolis, which went 23-21 overall and placed second in the GLVC at 19-13, opens the 2022 season Feb. 18 at Greyhound Park against Notre Dame (Euclid, Ohio). A series at Lake Erie (Painesville, Ohio), where former UIndy assistant Landon Hutchison is now head coach, begins March 11.

Trevor and high school sweathart Emma were married in July 2020.

Trevor Forde (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Trevor Forde (University of Indianapolis Photo)

Former UIndy assistant Hutchison now running the baseball show at Lake Erie

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

Landon Hutchison spent five seasons (2017-21) as an assistant baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis.
The former right-handed pitcher graduated from Liberty Union High School in Baltimore, Ohio, then played four seasons at the University of Rio Grande (Ohio). He followed that up with two seasons a Red Storm graduate assistant before UIndy, where he worked primarily with pitchers.
Last July, Hutchison followed former Greyhounds head coach Gary Vaught as the leader of the program at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, 30 miles northeast of Cleveland.
“I’m extremely excited for this opportunity,” says Hutchison, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “I can’t thank all the guys who coached with me (including Vaught, Al Ready and Trevor Forde at Indianapolis and Brad Warnimont at Rio Grande).”
While he was still in Indianapolis at the beginning, Hutchison started at Lake Erie in the middle of the summer recruiting season.
“I immediately started hitting the needs,” says Hutchison. “We have a very strong 2022 (recruiting class) and we got the pieces that we needed to be competitive.
“It’s looking bright for the future.”
Besides Ohio, Hutchison counts players from Indiana (Calumet New Tech’s Caleb Deel), California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Argentina, Canada and Mexico on the published roster.
Hutchison says he wants to carry a large number of players.
“Division II schools typically get more arms and having that depth helps a lot,” says Hutchison.
There is also competition with the team.
“(Players) know that there’s guys that are going to try to take their job and then next year it’s going to be the exact same way,” says Hutchison. “But I’m trying not to over-recruit and be as honest as I can during the recruiting process. The recruiting board is sitting right there for any guy that comes to visit.
“Once that position’s done, that position’s done. I don’t want a situation where I have six shortstops, 18 outfielders or anything like that. Once that (desired) number is hit that class is done.”
Through his involvement with Pastime Tournaments while in Indiana, Hutchison was able to cultivate relationships and identify some talent.
“(Pastime Tournaments president) Tom Davidson was unbelievable in helping me get to where I am now with my career,” says Hutchison. “He knew that was the end goal.”
Like UIndy, Lake Erie is an NCAA Division II school (the Storm are in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference).
The difference for Hutchison is that he now has a hand in all aspects of the team — from scheduling and travel accommodations and all facets of the game. With that in mind, he attended many ABCA Convention sessions on the position player side of things.
“The relationships are a little bit broader now,” says Hutchison, who has hired two graduate assistant and a volunteer coach to help him. “Rather than just the pitching staff and a handful of position players, it’s every guy.
“It’s been my goal to create a great culture and the guys understand that we really care about them. We’re trying to have their best interests with everything we do with the development side of things and education.
“We had one of the highest team GPA’s (last semester) that we’ve had in a long time.”
Hutchison will also be able to use technology and training aids in his new position, including products from Rapsodo, Blast Motion and Driveline.
Lake Erie is to open the 2022 season Feb. 25 in Evansville against the University of Southern Indiana.

Lake Erie College head baseball coach Landon Hutchison at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Sprinkle helping Franklin College as assistant coach

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

Franklin (Ind.) College enjoyed a 25-14 baseball season in 2021.
The Grizzlies hit .299 as a team with 152 extra-base hits (45 home runs) and 87 stolen bases.
Of the top eight players in at-bats, six were seniors. Franklin’s fall workouts included many newcomers.
“We worked a lot on team offense and defense,” says Jake Sprinkle, who is in his second season as a Franklin assistant coach in 2021-22. “We have a lot of new faces and we want to get those guys acclimated.
“We had a lot of scrimmages, letting pitchers and hitters show what they’ve got.”
NCAA Division III rules restrict coach-player contact in the winter.
“We don’t have individual time,” says Sprinkle. “Seniors and leaders are setting up hitting and throwing groups. They’re making velo and exit velocity jumps and getting stronger in the weight room.”
Sprinkle, who works for head coach and associate director of athletics Lance Marshall, has been hitting the recruiting trail and getting plans in place and equipment ordered for the spring of 2022. The season is slated to begin Feb. 26 against Albion at Grizzly Park.
“This time of year we’re getting a lot of kids on-campus,” says Sprinkle of recruiting. “We’re trying to get some guys bought-in. We’re still working on 2022 (recruiting) class and reaching out to some 2023’s we’ve seen in the past.”
The Franklin website lists a 2021 roster of 45 with 40 of those hailing from Indiana.
Sprinkle, who turns 26 on Dec. 28, was born and raised in the Franklin Township section of Indianapolis. He played tennis and baseball at Franklin Central High School. Twin brother Ben was his tennis doubles partner and a baseball teammate. The Flashes were coached on the diamond by John Rockey.
“He was an awesome guy,” says Sprinkle of Rockey. “He brought a ton of energy to practice. He taught us what we needed to do at a younger age and prepared guys for college.
“We wanted to show up and work every single day.”
Jacob Wickliff (now head baseball coach at Beech Grove High School) was a Franklin Central teammate of the Sprinkle brothers.
Sprinkle was a right-handed pitcher at the University of Indianapolis.
As a UIndy freshman in 2015, Sprinkle went 8-2 with 2.97 earned run average. He struck out 32 and walked 11 in 63 2/3 inning.
Tommy John arm surgery caused him to miss the 2016 season and he was granted a medical redshirt before pitching for the Greyhounds from 2017-19. For his four college seasons, he was 22-9 with 3.86 ERA, 179 strikeouts and 68 walks in 240 innings.
Sprinkle’s first four years were spent with Gary Vaught as head coach with Al Ready moving up to be head coach his fifth year.
“(Coach Vaught) was so personable,” says Sprinkle. “He made everybody feel like they were special and created a personal bond. He would make sure people knew he was there for them.
“(Coach Ready) is extremely dedicated and hard-working. He’s a guy who’s going to put his best foot forward, do his research and whatever he can to win.”
Landon Hutchison was the Greyhounds pitching coach Sprinkle’s last few seasons.
After his college playing days, Sprinkle was briefly in the United Shore Professional Baseball League in the summer of 2019 then spent a year as a UIndy graduate assistant. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Marketing/Information Systems and a master’s degree in Sports Management from UIndy.
He joined Marshall’s Franklin coaching staff in September 2020.
“(Coach Marshall) is an awesome guy,” says Sprinkle. “He’s extremely hard-working and does everything the right way.
“He builds a championship culture — on and off the field.”
Besides recruiting, Sprinkle is in charge of Grizzlies infielders and hitters and helps with pitchers.
“With our infielders, we’re big on making the routine play,” says Sprinkle. “We re-set every play. It’s about being athletic.
“The hitters’ approach is about being on-time and driving the baseball in the gap.”
Last summer, Sprinkle coached a 17U travel team for Mike Chitwood’s Indiana Elite organization and will be leading a 17U squad for Chad Fowler’s Powerhouse Athletics group in the summer of 2022.
“I thought that’s where my path would take me,” says Sprinkle of coaching. “I was very fortunate to have a lot of great coaches.
“I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Sprinkle comes from a baseball-loving family. He and his brother grew up being coached by their father, Tracy Sprinkle with support from mother Lori Sprinkle and sister Malorie Sprinkle (a former Franklin Central softball player who’s now a Butler University freshman). Ben Sprinkle began went to Kentucky Wesleyan College for baseball before transferring to Franklin.

Jake Sprinkle (Franklin College Photo)

Perry Meridian grad Dudas finds home at Southport

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

Brendan Dudas determined that he needed on a career change and left the business world that he entered after college for education. He became a teacher in 2020-21.
“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made and it’s so fulfilling,” says Dudas, who is teaching fourth graders at Mary Bryan Elementary in the Southport section of Indianapolis, in the first part of 2021-22. “I can be a male role model for some of the boys in the school. They might say, ‘I can be a teacher just like Mr. Dudas someday.’”
The Mary Bryan campus is the site of Holder Field – home of Southport High School baseball.
Dudas was hired as the Cardinals head baseball coach in July and plans call for him to begin teaching college and career prep to SHS freshmen after winter break. The high school dismisses at 2 p.m. and the elementary at 4.
Just like he does with The Dirtyard as founder of Circle City Wiffle®, Dudas did some sprucing at Holder Field.
“I’ve edged it,” says Dudas. “I want to give the kids something to be proud of.”
A 2013 graduate of Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis (PM and Southport are both part of Perry Township Schools), Dudas went to the University of Indianapolis to study and play baseball. He redshirted as a freshman and then competed for the Gary Vaught-coached Greyhounds for four seasons (2015-18) while earning a bachelor’s degree in Supply Chain Management and a Master’s in Business Administration.
Dudas describes the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period with Southport players.
“I got right to work,” says Dudas. “I was excited to get out there and see what I had.
“We did a lot of skill work and broke things down to the basics.
By the end of the fall, the Cardinals were participating in modified scrimmages.
Right now, players are working on conditioning and team bonding.
“Last night they ran in the snow,” says Dudas, who is eager for the next Limited Contact window to open on Dec. 6. “On 12-6 we’re going to get reps after reps in the (batting) cage – whatever we have to do to simulate being on the field.”
Southport has an indoor facility with cages and a turf floor. If it gets too cold in there, practice can be shifted to an auxiliary gym.
Dudes’ 2022 assistants are Jordan Tackett (pitching coach), Thomas Hopkins, Keegan Caughey, Chris Cox and Mike Gaylor.
Tackett (Perry Meridian Class of 2013) and Dudas played together at age 10 with the Edgewood Bulldogs (later known as the Indy Irish) and at Perry Meridian and UIndy. Dudas met Hopkins, who played at Hanover College, through Wiffle®Ball. Caughey is Dudas’ best friend and was also in the Perry Meridian Class of ’13. Cox is a holdover from 2021 and will be the junior varsity head coach.
Southport (enrollment around 2,250) is a member of Conference Indiana (with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus North, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).
In 2021, the Cardinals were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Roncalli and Warren Central. Southport has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2008.
Senior Zachary Shepherd recently signed to play of Southport graduate Tony Vittorio at Wilmington (Ohio) College.
Dudas says he may have a few more college commits in his senior class and sees plenty of potentials in his “young guns.”
Left-handed pitcher Avery Short was selected in 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks straight out of Southport. He competed at Low-Class A Visalia in 2021.
The high school program is fed in part by Southport Little League.
“(Administrators) want us to visit there and get it thriving again,” says Dudas.
Southport Middle School plays condensed baseball schedule in the spring.
Brendan and Madison Dudas have been married for two years. They’ve been best friends since they were in sixth grade. Madison Dudas is in the Indiana University School of Medicine-Indianapolis campus.
The couple lives in Perry Township and are raising Brendan’s nephews – Kevin and Tristan. He was a true sophomore at UIndy when he took the boys in following the death of his sister to a heroin overdose.
“We have a support system here,” says Brendan. “That’s why (coming to Southport) here is so appealing.”

Brendan Dudas (Perry Township Schools Photo)

Taylor, IU Southeast, Marian, UIndy, Indiana Wesleyan among streaking teams

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As winter has turned to spring, the hottest college baseball programs in the state — based on current win streaks — are at Taylor, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Indianapolis and Indiana Wesleyan.

Among NAIA squads, there’s the Taylor Trojans (21-6) with 14 straight wins, IU Southeast Grenadiers (17-11) and Marian Knights (15-8) with eight each and Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats (21-8) with five. NCAA D-II’s UIndy Greyhounds (7-7) have six straight triumphs (including a 4-0 weekend series vs. Truman).

Among regulars, Conner Crawford (.357 with three home runs) paces the Taylor offense. Anderson High School graduate Joe Moran (5-2, 2.45 earned run average) is the Trojans’ top moundsman.

Brody Tanksley (.392 with seven homers) leads IU Southeast batters. Drew Hensley (4-2) is tops in pitching wins. Both are Bedford North Lawrence alums.

Hitter Matteo Porcellato (.329) and pitcher Kole Aping (4-0) have contributed to Marian’s success. Aping is a Beech Grove graduate.

M.J. Stavoia (.411) and Jon Young (4-0) are IWU stalwarts.

By the way, Crossroads League frontrunners Indiana Wesleyan (12-0) and Taylor (10-0) are slated to meet April 9 and 10 in doubleheaders at IWU.

Brandon DeWitt (.475) and Greenwood Community grad Reid Werner (2-1) have been key performers for Indianapolis.

Taylor (4-0 vs. Mount Vernon Nazarene), IU Southeast (3-0 at Ohio Christian), Marian (2-0 vs. Spring Arbor), UIndy (4-0 vs. Truman) and Indiana Wesleyan (4-0 at Goshen) are all coming off weekend series wins as are NAIA members Oakland City (11-11) 3-0 vs. Rio Grande and NCAA D-II’s Purdue Northwest (6-3) 3-0 vs. Wisconsin Parkside.

NCAA D-I series victors included Indiana State (11-6) 3-1 at Alabama-Birmingham, Indiana (9-2) 2-1 vs. Purdue, Notre Dame (9-3) 2-1 vs. Duke, Ball State (9-8) 3-1 vs. Western Michigan, Evansville (9-10) 2-1 at Butler and Purdue Fort Wayne (7-8) 3-1 vs. Oakland.

Max Wright is hitting .339 with four homers for Indiana State. Geremy Guerrero (4-0, 1.14) has been the Sycamores’ top pitcher.

Evansville Memorial graduate Drew Ashley (.395) and Carmel alum Tommy Sommer (2-0, 1.40) are among those who have shined for Indiana.

Ball State has been sparked by Adam Tellier (.429) and John Baker (2-1, 1.11).

Kenton Crews (Heritage Hills alum) became the first Evansville player during the NCAA D-I era to hit for the cycle when he produced a single, double, triple and home run in Sunday’s win at Butler.

Notre Dame played its first home games since 2019. Irish hitters led so far in 2021 by Jared Miller (.380 with three homers). Niko Kavadas (Penn graduate) is hitting .302 with seven homers. Starter John Michael Bertrand and reliever Liam Simon are both 3-0.

Purdue Fort Wayne regular and Hamilton Southeastern product Jack Lang (.354) is among the Mastodons’ leaders as is Jacob Myer (3-0, 1.61).

At the NCAA D-III level, Hanover (6-2) went 2-0 vs. Mount St. Joseph, Wabash (7-5) 4-0 vs. Trine, Anderson (6-4) 3-1 for the weekend — 1-1 at Earhlam Saturday and 2-0 vs. Bluffton Sunday.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through March 21

NCAA Division I

Indiana State 11-6 (0-0 MVC) 

Indiana 9-2 (9-2 Big Ten) 

Notre Dame 9-3 (9-3 ACC) 

Ball State 9-8 (3-1 MAC) 

Evansville 9-10 (1-3 MVC) 

Purdue Fort Wayne 7-8 (4-4 HL) 

Valparaiso 4-9 (0-0 MVC) 

Butler 3-4 (0-0 Big East) 

Purdue 2-9 (2-9 Big Ten) 

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis 7-7 (6-2 GLVC) 

Purdue Northwest 6-3 (0-0 GLIAC) 

Southern Indiana 4-10 (2-6 GLVC) 

NCAA Division III

Earlham 7-3 (7-3 HCAC) 

DePauw 7-6 (0-0 NCAC) 

Hanover 6-2 (6-2 HCAC) 

Franklin 5-3 (5-3 HCAC) 

Wabash 7-5 (0-0 NCAC)

Rose-Hulman 4-3 (4-3 HCAC) 

Anderson 6-4 (6-4 HCAC) 

Manchester 3-7 (3-7 HCAC) 

Trine 0-9 (0-0 MIAA) 

NAIA

Indiana Wesleyan 21-8 (12-0 CL) 

Taylor 21-6 (10-0 CL) 

Indiana University Southeast 17-11 (8-0 RSC) 

Huntington 15-5 (8-4 CL) 

Marian 15-8 (8-2 CL) 

Saint Francis 14-11 (6-6 CL) 

Oakland City 11-11 (4-5 RSC) 

Indiana University-Kokomo 9-12 (3-6 RSC) 

Indiana Tech 8-13 (0-1 WHAC) 

Grace 8-13 (5-7 CL) 

Indiana University South Bend 6-12 (2-2 CCAC) 

Bethel 5-20 (2-10 CL) 

Calumet of Saint Joseph 1-11 (1-1 CCAC) 

Goshen 0-17 (0-12 CL) 

Junior College

Vincennes 12-6 (2-2 MWAC) 

Ivy Tech Northeast 10-12 

Ancilla 4-11 (0-0 MCCAA) 

Indiana Elite Baseball stresses development, exposure

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With giving players opportunities to develop and compete at a high level a priority, Indiana Elite Baseball is preparing for the spring and summer travel season.

Started as part of the Center Grove Little League in Greenwood, Ind., Indiana Elite Baseball had one team in 2011 then four teams in 2013 and was up to 10 squads in 2014 and has stayed in that range ever since. IEB will field 10 squads ages 12U through 17U in 2021. Younger players are typically come from central Indiana, but talent comes around the state.

“We started to grow it slowly,” says Indiana Elite Baseball founder and president Mike Chitwood, a former all-city player and 1989 graduate of Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis. “We wanted to do something bigger than a community-based team.

“I have a big passion for doing what I do. I love educating players and families on the process. I tell them to play the game for as long as you can.”

IEB has been a not-for-profit organization since 2013. 

“I try to keep cost as low as possible for our families,” says Chitwood. “You have to do certain things to afford the families and players an opportunity to develop.”

Indiana Elite Baseball can be found taking the field at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo., LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga.

In 2016, the organization got its own indoor training facility on the southeast side of Indianapolis. It’s open year-round only to IEB teams, coaches and instructors.

“It’s been a great addition for the last five years,” says Chitwood. 

Indiana Elite Baseball offers a full winter training program led by director of baseball operations Brian Simmons.

Players train four hours a week November to March. 

“I’m a big advocate of multi-sport athletes,” says Chitwood. “But get to as many (baseball workouts) as you can.”

Younger teams tend to play in 12 events a year, beginning in early to mid-April. Older teams play seven or eight tournaments after Memorial Day.

Simmons is a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis who played at Xavier University and Ball State University and in independent pro ball. He was an assistant at Roncalli to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Wirtz and aided Eric McGaha at Mooresville (Ind.) High School and was head coach at Roncalli and Indianapolis Arlington.

Deron Spink is the other IEB instructor. A California native, Spink coached future big leaguers Ryan Howard and David Freese in the St. Louis area and was head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., and director of baseball operations at Villanova University in Philadelphia before moving to Indiana. 

Spink was a volunteer assistant to Steve Farley at Butler University and is a former director of baseball operations and recruiting for Indiana Elite Baseball who now resides in Evansville while still coming to Indianapolis to give private lessons.

Chitwood, Simmons and vice president Jeff Amodeo make up IEB’s board. Amodeo coaches and does much of the behind-the-scenes work.

Through a relationship with Franklin College the past four years, Chitwood has gotten Grizzlies assistants to coach for Indiana Elite Baseball in the summer. Tim Miller has gone on to become head coach at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. Former Franklin and IEB coach Tyler Rubasky is Miller’s assistant.

Current Franklin assistants Jake Sprinkle, who played at Franklin Central and the University of Indianapolis, and Trevor Tunison, who played at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., also lend their talents to IEB. 

Chitwood used to have a rule that after 15U, there could be no coaches who had sons on the team. 

“As long as a dad is in it for the right reason and they’re not in it to take care of their son, I will let a dad continue as long as they want to continue for multiple reasons,” says Chitwood. “These days, it’s harder and harder to get a guy to spend his entire summer at the baseball field.”

Mike ceased coaching son Blake Chitwood, who played for Roncalli’s IHSAA Class 4A state champions in 2016 and then at the UIndy, and has regretted the decision.

“There’s a misconception that you had to play collegiately or at a higher level professionally to be a coach,” says Chitwood. “(16U Black head coach) Steve Sawa didn’t play past high school. But he’s a student of the game. He’s a great coach.”

John Curl, a Logansport (Ind.) High School graduate who played at Texas A&M and in the Toronto Blue Jays organization and is a Kokomo (Ind.) High School assistant, helps Sawa.

Paul Godsey (Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky.), Dan Sullivan (Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis) and Scott Gilliam (UIndy) and Brian Maryan (Rose-Hulman) are former college players who also have sons on their respective teams. Gilliam is assisted by former Eastern Illinois University pitcher and IEB father/coach Kyle Widegren

Thomas Taylor, Kyle Morford and Ryan Mueller are also current IEB head coaches.

After Blake moved on, Mike Chitwood coached the 17U team. He decided by focusing on one team he was doing the rest of the outfit a disservice so he stepped out of the coaching role.

“I like to see all my teams play,” says Chitwood. “It’s important to build the culture and the family atmosphere.”

The goal of IEB’s high school age players is getting to the next level.

Chitwood stresses education with baseball as a means of getting that education.

He asks each player to take baseball out of the equation.

“It has to be a great academic fit,” says Chitwood. “What are you going to be in the future?

“Even if you get to play pro ball, you still have to provide for your family after your playing career.”

Chitwood wants players to know if a school offers a major that interests them and if — realistically — they can play at that level.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the whole environment of the recruiting process. Many coaches have not been able to attend travel events in-person and on-campus visits have been restricted.

“More than ever, it’s important to perform in these showcases,” says Chitwood. “We want to continue to build our relationships with all these (college) coaches.”

Chitwood keeps college programs up-to-date on Indiana Elite Baseball players through social media and the sharing of data such as Rapsodo

To be proactive, Chitwood has hired an intern to take video of game action this season.

Resources like Prep Baseball Report, Perfect Game and FieldLevel are also tools for exposure.

The pandemic has had another big impact. Many players are coming back for an extra year of eligibility after the 2020 college season was shortened. 

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was cut from 40 to five rounds last year, keeping many players on the amateur side of the equation.

“It’s a different environment now,” says Chitwood. “Opportunities are much less than they were two years ago.”

Mike Chitwood is the founder and president of Indiana Elite Baseball, a not-for-profit travel baseball organization based in Indianapolis. (Indiana Elite Baseball Photo)

Leadership shines through for UIndy lefty Witty

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mychal Witty tries to set a good example — on and off the baseball field.

As a left-handed pitcher at the University of Indianapolis, he has gotten the attention of teammates with his willingness to work — with running, weight lifting and generally staying fit.

“They listen to the things that I say probably because of all the time that I’ve put in,” says Witty of his leadership role. “It reciprocates to them.”

Witty is a 5-foot-10, 153-pound redshirt senior with one year of eligibility remaining for the NCAA Division II Greyhounds. 

The 2015 graduate of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis played played two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. (2016 and 2017).

Witty transferred to UIndy and threw 8 2/3 innings in 2018 with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, underwent Tommy John reconstruction surgery that summer and missed the 2019 season.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season, Witty appeared in four games and went 3-0 with a 1.57 earned run average. In 23 innings, he struck out 20 and walked four.

Coming in the second inning, Witty pitched no-decision six innings in his final trip to the mound March 8 against Truman State in Kirksville, Mo. 

“We did an opener this year (a reliever pitching the first inning),” says Witty. “It gives the starter the chance to be in the game at the end.”

“It’s a blast (playing for Greyhounds head coach Al Ready). He really wants to change it up.”

Away from the diamond, Witty has achieved a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and will be working toward his masters in Applied Sociology when school resumes in the fall. He has been taking 4-plus-1 graduate courses since he began attending UIndy.

Why sociology?

“Coming from the east side of Indianapolis I endured a lot,” says Witty. “I want to be able to help troubled youth and maybe turn around a couple lives — if not all of them. 

“I want to work with kids and make sure they’re learning.”

Witty attended Warren Central High School and played for two years (freshmen and split his sophomore year between junior varsity and varsity) and spent his last two on varsity at Lawrence North, where he played for Wildcats head coach Richard Winzenread.

His introduction to organized baseball came at 4 in the Warren Little League.

Witty then played travel ball for the Indy Bats for a couple summers, took a few summers off and played in the Bob Haney-led Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Indianapolis program before coming back to the Adam Robertson-coached Indy Bats at 18U.

By then, Witty had already committed to Lincoln Trail, where Kevin Bowers is head coach.

“My favorite part about junior college was that there was a lot of guys from a lot of different places and you’ve got to learn how to be one unit,” says Witty. “It was a small town. You make fun with guys that you’ve got.”

Junior college baseball is about development and players are given the time to hone their skills.

“We’d get out of class anywhere from 12 to 1 and you’d be outside for the rest of the day until the sun went down,” says Witty of his time with LTC Statesmen. 

Witty throws a fastball, slider, curveball and a change-up from a three-quarter overhand arm slot.

“I spin my fastball pretty well so it runs a little bit,” says Witty, who works with pitching coach Landon Hutchison at UIndy. “(My best pitch) is that or the slider.”

Myc (pronounced Mike) is the son of Michael Witty and Stacy Landers.

The pitcher has three younger siblings — sister Neicy Persinger and brothers Mayson Smith and Merrick Smith.

Currently with the Screwballs in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Witty is enjoying his first summer collegiate baseball experience.

“There’s a lot of good guys just trying to get their work in,” says Witty. “I’ve only had (four) outings since March.”

Since UIndy played its last game on March 11, Witty has been throwing and trying to keep his arm in shape with band work.

Class work was finished exclusively online.

“It was a struggle to say the least,” says Witty. “There’s no face-to-face interaction. There’s a lot of quiet time.

“I feel for everyone who has a tough major. Mine is a lot of writing and making sure that you answer questions. I didn’t have to do a whole bunch of extra studying per se.”

Mychal Witty, a 2015 graduate of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, is a redshirt senior baseball player at the University of Indianapolis. He is currently with the Screwballs in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

UIndy’s Ready talks about principles of catching

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Al Ready was a catcher at the University of Indianapolis and now he instruct receivers as the NCAA Division II Greyhounds head coach.

Ready shared elements of playing the position at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville hosted by Greg Vogt.

Ready says catcher is the most under-coached position in baseball.

“It’s probably the most important position on the field next to the pitcher,” says Ready. “However, in a practice setting, a lot of times there’s not enough time to work with those guys.

“Their responsibilities in practice tend to be in the bullpen or whatever.”

One area of catching that Ready sees as something of a lost art is “umpire management” aka building a positive relationship with the officials.

“It’s a job you should be teaching your catchers to do,” says Ready. “The umpires are human beings. There’s a lot of screaming and hollering at the umpire and I’m as guilty as anybody.

“As the catcher, you have the ability to control some of that. You want to put yourself in a position where calls that could go one way or another are going to go your way.”

Ready encourages his catchers to talk with the umpires, making joke around with them a little bit.

“You’ll get some guys who are a little hesitant to talk and some that will want to talk your ear off,” says Ready. “The ones that don’t like to talk, it was a goal of mine to get the guy to laugh or talk to me a little more consistently throughout the game.

“When you do those types of things, the game becomes more fun.”

Ready addressed the sequence of events that happen before the pitcher releases the baseball.

With no runners on and no outs, the catcher assumes a relaxed position.

Before giving the signal to the pitcher, Ready says the catcher should look at the base coaches who may try to creep in toward the lines to pick up the sign.

“You also want to take a look at the hitter to make sure he’s not peaking back,” says Ready. “Now you’re ready to give your signal.”

Ready says only three people should be able to see the signal which is given high with the glove in front to shield it: pitcher, shortstop and second baseman.

“After the first inning, I check with my first baseman,” says Ready. “If he can see them, the runner can see them.”

Ready says the timing of the catcher’s shift is important.

If the pitcher is in the wind-up, about the time he breaks his hands is when the catcher shifts. Depending on which direction he intends to go, he turns in his right or left knee and slides over.

“You don’t want to bounce,” says Ready. “With bouncing, the hitter can sense which side of the plate you’re moving on.

“You want to be quiet. You want to be smooth. You don’t want to give up that location.”

Ready has his catchers use two stances — primary and secondary.

Primary is with no runners on base. The catcher gets low and presents a nice target to the pitcher.

“If there’s a ball in the dirt, I’m still going to try my best to block it because I want to keep it off the umpire,” says Ready. “I want to work hard for him because he’s going to work hard for me.

“But if it gets past me, it’s not the end of the world with nobody on-base.”

Secondary is with runners. The catcher’s posterior is a little higher and his thumb is cupped behind the glove. He is ready to block the ball and to throw it.

“Anytime you do a drill progression, you should work your catchers in the primary stance and the second stance,” says Ready. “That’s very important.”

Ready likes his receivers to present a low target.

“I also want to be consistent with not dropping my glove on the pitch,” says Ready. “Even with the guys in the big leagues, it’s gotten bad. A lot of those catchers are very talented. They can do a lot of things physically.

“But a lot of them are way too far back. They reach out. They set up differently on different pitches.”

Ready says the disadvantage of dropping the glove comes when the pitch is up and the catcher has to cover a lot of distance to catch the ball.

The idea is to make a target and leave it there.

“What if it’s a border line pitch and I’m going try to frame it?,” says Ready. “That’s going to look maybe not as good as if (I was moving the glove a short distance).

“The less distance you have to cover, the best it’s going to look on border line pitches.”

An absolute for Ready when it comes to catching is throwing.

“If you can’t throw, you can’t catch,” says Ready. “You can be the best receiver, block and be able to call a great game. You can do all of those things.

“But if somebody gets on-base, they’re going to run. They’re going to steal second. They’re going to steal third.”

Being careful not to interfere with the hitter or be struck by the follow-through of the swing, Ready wants his catchers to get underneath the hitter to decrease the distance the ball has to travel from the pitcher.

“The pitcher is going to like that look,” says Ready. “Sometimes (the catcher) might be back two feet.

“There’s a lot of benefits with being closer to the hitter. You’re going to get more pitches down called strikes because you can stick them.

“If you are far back and you reach out to catch a low pitch and as soon as you catch it — no matter how strong you are — it’s almost impossible to keep it right there. It will go down.”

When sticking pitches, Ready looks for catchers to have a little flexion in their left arm.

“You’re going to get that call more times than not,” says Ready.

Recalling a fall game against a junior college where there were six 1-1 counts on both sides during the game where the next pitch was low, Ready says UIndy catchers got all called for strikes while the opponent’s receiver, who was too far away from the plate, got all called for balls.

“Going from 1-1 to 1-2 can be the difference in the ball game right there,” says Ready. “Let’s say there are two outs (with a runner on second) and it’s 1-1 and you didn’t get that pitch (making it 2-1). Let’s say the next swing — boom! — it’s a double. The next guy hits a little bleeder. The run scores. The next guy jacks one. That’s three runs.

“You probably could’ve been out of the inning if you could’ve gotten that (1-1) pitch (called a strike).”

When he was a player, Ready learned how to be close to the plate and not get hit by a back-swing and he shares it with his catchers.

“Only three things can happen. Either the hitter swings, checks or he takes,” says Ready. “Two of them you have to frame. You have to stick. You have to make it look good. That’s the take and check swing. There is no risk of getting hit by a back-swing on a take or a check swing.

“You don’t frame pitches that guys swing at.”

When there’s a swing, catchers catch the ball and get out of the way.

When it comes to framing, Ready wants his catchers to frame only border line pitches.

“Anything else, we catch it and throw it back,” says Ready.

Ready says many catchers these days get as wide as possible and uses slight of hand to receive the ball.

“It use to be ‘skinny sway,’” says Ready. “The skinnier you make yourself, the further off the plate you can go.

“We use both and test out the umpire. The strike zone is what the umpire says it is. It’s going to change from day to day. It’s your job (as a catcher) to figure out what it is. If it’s expanded, you should exploit it. There’s no question about it.”

When it comes to stopping pitches in the dirt, Ready teaches his catchers to block and recover.

“Get the ball back in your hand as quick as you can,” says Ready. “All you want is a chance to make a play.”

Catchers must anticipate where the ball is going to go if it hits the ground and be ready to move in that direction without giving away location.

When blocking, Ready asks his catchers to drop to their knees to plug up the 5-hole.

The catcher rotates around a small imaginary arc.

“If I’m straight, it’s like Pong,” says Ready. “The ball is going to come in this way and ricochet that way.

“I want to be turned just slightly.”

Another key: Be a pillow and blow your air out. In other words, the catcher should not be rigid when the ball strikes his body.

“The ball can hit you and its going to deaden,” says Ready. “Then you can reach out and grab it.”

When it comes to throwing, footwork is important.

“Know the limitations of your catchers before teaching them footwork,” says Ready. “It all depends on how good the guy’s arm is.

“If his arm is not good, he’s going to have to gain some momentum (with a jab step) to get the ball down to second base.”

Ready teaches his catchers to have the thumb tucked behind and transfer the ball from the glove to the throwing hand out in front of their bodies.

“If I don’t get a perfect grip on it, I can adjust it in my hand as I get it back here to throw,” says Ready. “Getting a perfect four-seam grip on the ball is a bad expectation.

“It’s a quickness. You get it and get rid of it. You have to have arm strength and put it on the base.”

Ready says bullpens are not just for pitchers. They present a good opportunity for catchers to work on blocking, framing, shifting, footwork, signal-calling etc.

“In (the Great Lakes Valley Conference), I can tell you this, if you roll with the same set of signals with a runner on second year in and year out, you get what you deserve,” says Ready. “You should have multiple sets of signals.

“You should have a verbal where you can switch them on the fly where you don’t have to waste a trip (to the mound).”

Ready went over blocking, receiving and throwing drills he uses as part of a 45-minute progression in developing catchers at UIndy:

• Face Off. Catchers are paired up. They catch the ball and throw it back.

• Rapid Fire. A coach feeds balls to a catcher who receives them bare-handed one after the other. This helps with hand-eye coordination and reaction time.

“Training at a high rate of speed is how you slow the game down,” says Ready.

• Weighted Ball. They are delivered underhand with catchers receiving them with or without their glove.

“It will help your catchers stick the ball and not take it out of the position where they caught it,” says Ready.

• Receiving. Catchers field throws from various positions.

• 3-Ball Blocking. Catchers will get into a secondary stance and then go down to where the coach points. There is a slow and deliberate round followed by a fast one.

• Hands Down/Chin Down. It helps with catchers who like to flinch on blocking balls. A pitching machine will deliver the ball in the same spot each time.

• Block and Recover.

• Cheat. A version of block and recover where the catcher gets the ball in their hand as quickly as possible.

• Machine Receiving. The catcher starts from 60 feet, 6 inches away and sees how close they can get to the machine with each pitch. It becomes a competitive thing among teammates.

• Long Toss. Ready likes his catchers to do this in some form everyday.

• One-Knee Throwing.

• Hands Transfer.

“The transfer is key,” says Ready. “If you want to get people out, you’ve got to be able to transfer the ball.”

• Coach In The Middle. Done at the distance home to second base (127 1/2 feet) and at 150 feet with a coach in the middle, catchers deliver throws to a moving target. It also helps build up arm strength.

ALREADYUINDY2

Al Ready, a former University of Indianapolis catcher, is now the head baseball coach at UIndy. (University of Indianapolis Photo)