Tag Archives: Valparaiso High School

Westons share faith, fondness for pitching a baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drew Weston chose “a quarter” and it changed his baseball life.

Weston was a left-handed relief pitcher at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University in the last two weeks of his senior season when he decided to experiment.

The 2013 Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate had been propelling the baseball from a high three-quarter arm slot. On this day in Cougars bullpen in 2017, he decided to drop down. He went from three-quarter to what he calls “a quarter” — a sidearm kind of delivery.

Weston was accurate and the new approach gave the 6-foot-2, 170-pounder some deception.

“It’s a little bit like Chris Sale, but the one I most emulate is Donnie Hart of the (Baltimore) Orioles. He’s a little bit lower even.”

Weston graduated from SAU in the spring of 2017 major in recreation and leisure management and minor in Spanish and went to pitcher for the Beecher (Ill.) Muskies in the Chicago Suburban Baseball League.

A solid starter with the Muskies, he was chosen to start in the league’s all-star game and then signed for the rest of the summer to play in the Detroit Tigers organization.

In five games (three as a starter) with the Gulf Coast League Tigers West, Weston went 2-0 with a 4.50 earned run average, 12 strikeouts and two walks in 24 innings.

He was released by the Tigers in October 2017, but signed with the Chicago White Sox in April 2018.

At the start of extended spring training at the beginning of April, the White Sox were short on pitching so director of player development Chris Getz gave Weston a call and an opportunity to keep pitching as a professional.

“It’s such a cool opportunity to play the game that I love,” says Weston of the pro experience. “It’s a bonus to get paid for it.

“I get to play it at a high level with a lot of great guys.”

He made 32 appearances (all in relief) with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers and Arizona League White Sox and went 2-6 with a 4.87 ERA, 38 strikeouts and six walks in 47 1/3 innings. After a rough start at Great Falls, he had a streak where he gave up just one hit in six games. He was moved to Arizona with an influx of arms from the draft.

Weston, who turned 24 on Dec. 13 is now back in Valparaiso and juggling a busy schedule. He is working 40 or more hours a week while planning a February wedding and working out five or six days a week to get ready for spring training in March.

He is at the gym in Valparaiso most days, but occasionally drives over to the Chicago to work out with White Sox director of strength and conditioning Allen Thomas.

Right now, Weston is mostly lifting weights. He will begin throwing soon.

Weston met fiancee Amy Kanyer at Liberty Bible Church in Chesterton, Ind.

“We dated all this year long distance,” says Weston. “She’s learning quick (about the pro baseball lifestyle). She’s super supportive. I’m very appreciative of that.

“My mom did it for I don’t know how many years.”

Drew’s mother is Lisa Weston. Her husband of nearly 35 years (their anniversary is Dec. 31) is Mickey Weston, who played pro ball from 1982-96. A right-handed pitcher out of Eastern Michigan University, Mickey appeared in 23 games in the majors with the Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. He went 1-2 with a 7.15 ERA, 11 strikeouts and 19 walks in 44 innings.

Since 1996, Mickey Weston has been the executive director for Unlimited Potential Inc., an organization founded by Tom Roy (now chaplain and co-head baseball coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) whose vision is to “work to reach, teach, and train baseball players for the purpose of sending them out to make disciples of Jesus who love God passionately and love others radically.”

A key Bible passage for UPI is Acts 1:8: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

“We want to get them outside of themselves,” says Mickey of the ballplayers that come in contact with UPI. “The game of baseball can make us fairly selfish folks.

“This gets the ballplayers to think of others more highly than themselves.”

He notes that former White Sox right-handed reliever Scott Linebrink is now building wells around the world with Water Mission.

Mickey has worked in partnership with missionaries in more than 40 countries. This off-season, teams are going to South Africa, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guatemala and Germany.

As a youngster, Drew accompanied his father on some trips. His first as a professional player came last fall in Germany.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Drew. “We got to teach kids about baseball and teach kids about Jesus.”

The group went from town to town and taught baseball skills.

“We met afterwards in dugout and talked about why we love the game and why we love Jesus,” says Drew. “It’s a cool segue opportunity.”

Drew was born in Detroit in 1994. When Mickey became UPI executive director, he moved his family to the headquarters in Winona Lake. Drew grew up playing ball around Warsaw.

Drew is the third of Mickey and Weston’s four children.

Eldest daughter Erica Harrigan and husband Rob live in Indianapolis where she works for Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and he in human resources for Indiana University Health.

Second daughter Kayla Aanderud is an OBGYN resident in Michigan. Her husband, Brian, is the U.S. Army Special Forces.

Youngest daughter Marissa Weston is a violinist in graduate school at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh after graduating from the Jacobs School of Music at IU. Lisa, Erica, Kayla and Drew also play instruments.

When UPI founder Roy handed over White Sox chaplain duties to Mickey Weston and Bryan Hickerson, the two made the commute from north central Indiana to Chicago. To cut down on the commute, the Westons relocated to Valparaiso in 2008 when Drew was entering the eighth grade.

It’s 50 minutes from Valpo to Guaranteed Rate Field. Through Baseball Chapel, Mickey offers services to home and away players plus the umpires. Lisa serves the wives.

Drew played at Valparaiso High School. Dave Coyle was then the Vikings head coach. Current Valparaiso head coach Todd Evans was an assistant.

The lesson that young Weston learned from Coyle was to “really persevere.”

“He had a football mentality,” Weston says of Coyle. “To overcome adversity, that was kind of his thing.”

Mickey Weston has always been his son’s personal pitching coach.

“He’d talk to me about about how I did and how I could do better,” says Drew. “It’s cool to have him in my corner, encouraging me.”

Mickey was asked to assess his son’s pitching strengths.

“It’s control and being able to change speeds,” says Mickey. “He’s able to locate really well and he has movement.

“I didn’t allow him to throw a curveball until he was about 16 and it really forced him to develop his change-up.”

Mickey’s own baseball stock rose when he developed a sinker. It was his third year in Double-A. He was pitching in the bullpen in Tulsa.

“The ball came off my finger and dropped off the table,” says Mickey. “(Former major league right-hander) Glenn Abbott was my pitching coach and had been working with me.

“Less than a year and I was in the big leagues.”

Mickey Weston was a sinker/slider pitcher who created a lot of movement and hovered between 88 and 92 mph while inducing ground balls with his right-handed deliveries.

Ambidextrous as a toddler, Drew Weston fell in love with sister Kayla’s mitt. He wore it all the time. He even slept with it. As a result, he became the third lefty in the Weston household, joining Kayla and his mother.

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Drew Weston pitched from a high three-quarter arm angle for much of his career at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University. He later dropped down and is now pitching professionally in the Chicago White Sox system. (Spring Arbor University Photo)

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Drew Weston, a graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Spring Arbor (Mich.) University, pitched for the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in 2018. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

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Drew Weston (left) and father Mickey Weston share a moment when Drew was with the Detroit Tigers organization in 2018.

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Mickey Weston (left) visits son Drew Weston when Drew was with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox system in 2018. Former big league pitcher Mickey is executive director for Unlimited Potential Inc. and works through Baseball Chapel as chaplain for the Chicago White Sox.

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Drew Weston (right) and fiancee Amy Kanyer share a moment during the 2018 baseball season. Drew pitched in the Chicago White Sox system. The couple are to wed in February 2019.

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Dropping his arm angle helped Drew Weston earn a place in professional baseball. He played at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Spring Arbor University. First signed by the Detroit Tigers, he is now in the Chicago White Sox system. (Phrake Photography Photo)

 

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Lanky lefty Roberts displaying ‘will to win’ as Mariners minor leaguer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Max Roberts wants to be a winner.

He says that’s what drives him as an athlete.

“Competing is the biggest thing. It’s the will to win,” says Max Roberts. “It’s just who I am.”

That drive was instilled by his father — long-time Washington Township Middle/High School head baseball coach and fifth grade teacher Randy Roberts and grandfather Norman Roberts — and has followed Max throughout his diamond life.

“Between the two of us, Max probably acts more like his grandfather than he acts like me,” says Randy Roberts. His father lives in Warsaw, Ind., where Randy grew up. Randy played baseball for Jim Miller (who an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee) at Warsaw Community High School, graduating in 1978. From there, he played for Tom Roy at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. “My dad gave me the love for baseball. He was an incredible worker.”

From a very young age, Max showed the ability to throw a ball where he wanted.

“When he was 2 or 3 years old and we would play catch, he had good location and good aim,” says Randy Roberts, who has won eight IHSAA Class 1A sectionals in 22 seasons at Washington Township. “He’s always been pretty good at locating his pitches. He’s never been the hardest thrower on his team. He’s always been the best at getting outs.

“He’s a strike thrower.”

His father also admires Max’s lack of fear with throwing inside to batters.

“Most kids at the lower levels — when they get two strikes — they’re looking to go away,” says Randy. “It’s humiliating to hit a batter with two strikes. He’s always been good at coming inside. He has confidence in doing that.”

Max Roberts, who turns 21 on July 23, graduated from Valparaiso (Ind.) High School in 2016, played one year at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

The 6-foot-6, 190-pound left-hander made 10 appearances (seven starts) in 2017 and went 1-1 with a 5.18 earned run average, 18 strikeouts and nine walks in 24 1/3 innings the rookie-level Arizona League Mariners.

In 2018, he has pitched in three games (all starts) and is 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA, 17 strikeouts and three walks in 15 innings with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.

How has he improved the last year?

“By having a feel for every pitch in any count,” says Max Roberts, who throws a four-seam fastball (consistently thrown at 87 to 89 mph and occasionally touching 91 to 92), curveball and four-seam “circle” change-up from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot.

“I definitely have some arm-side run,” says Roberts, who credits much of what he knows about pitching to his father and a relationship Randy has with Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. “They bounce ideas of each other.”

When Max was still in grade school, Randy attended the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago and invited Strom to extend his trip and spend a few days with Roberts in Valpo. Over the years, Randy and Max have visited Strom when he was nearby, sent video for for his analysis or texted questions. He has always been swift with his replies.

“There’s no better human being in baseball than Brent Strom,” says Randy Roberts.

Roberts was a late recruit at Wabash Valley, committing less than a month before arriving on-campus in the fall. By the third weekend of the spring, Roberts was the Friday starter for head coach Rob Fournier.

“(Fournier) was big on competing,” says Roberts. “He he didn’t care who you were — just go out and throw strikes and win games.”

Roberts went 10-1 with one save for WVC. Under the guidance of Fournier and pitching coach Jeff Bolen, he sported a 1.44 ERA, 98 strikeouts and 28 walks in 94 innings. Of his 17 appearances, 13 came as a starter. His lone loss was in relief.

Todd Evans was Roberts’ head coach at Valparaiso High.

Roberts got his formal baseball start in the Valpo Americans League before playing travel ball with the Boone Grove Wolves and then the Valpo Sting.

In high school, he was with the Indiana Chargers for four summers, working with coaches Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and Ryan Marken.

“I was in an environment with guys who wanted to play baseball,” says Max Roberts of the Chargers experience. “They cared.

“As a former college coach, (Mishler) knew what it took to compete at the next level. The biggest thing there was the winter workouts. That’s when you can see the biggest improvements in your game.”

The lanky Roberts put about 20 pounds last fall at the Mariners’ high performance training camp and has kept it on by consuming 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day.

“In the past, I had a hard time gaining and maintaining weight,” says Roberts. “This this year, it hasn’t been a problem.”

Vancouver hitters had a problem against Roberts in a June 20 game before a capacity crowd of 6,412 at Nat Bailey Stadium in British Columbia. The lefty retired the first 18 Canadians before allowing the first hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The next steps on the Mariners’ minor league ladder are the Low Class-A Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings, High Class-A Modesto (Calif.) Nuts, Double-A Arkansas Travelers and Triple-A Tacoma (Wash.) Rainiers.

Max is the oldest of Randy and Anne Roberts’ three children. Sophia just graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington in the spring. Baseball-playing William will enter his senior year at Washington Township in the fall.

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Max Roberts, a Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. He is now a starting pitcher with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Everett AquaSox)

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Max Roberts delivers a pitch for the 2018 Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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Max Roberts, who played at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College in Illinois, looks in for the sign as a pitcher for the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox in the Seattle Mariners system. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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Left-hander Max Roberts delivers the ball from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot. He was drafted in 2018 by the Seattle Mariners and assigned to the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

 

Nearly five decades in, Chesterton’s Campbell still enjoys the challenge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jack Campbell is in his 48th season as head baseball coach at Chesterton High School.

He keeps coming back at the Porter County, Ind., because he enjoys what each season might bring.

“It’s a challenge every year,” says Campbell, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 700 career victories, 19 sectional titles and three regional crowns to his credit since the 1971 season.

In 2018, Campbell faced the challenge of having five returning senior pitchers all likely to play college baseball and getting enough innings for each of them.

“It’s been a good problem,” says Campbell, who takes his 18-8 Trojans into the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional Saturday, June 2, after they bested Merrillville 17-0, Hobart 11-0 and Valparaiso 7-0 to win the 2018 Chesterton Sectional. “You like to win a lot of ball games. But when it comes down to it, if your kids can advance and get part of their education paid for that becomes really important.”

Those five arms bring a combined 31 feet, 5 inches to the hill.

Right-handers Austin Peterson (6-foot-6) and Grant Brunt (5-11) have committed to play at Purdue University while left-hander Brayden Cortwright (6-7) is headed to Western Illinois University and right-hander Chris Torres (6-4) to Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill. According to Campbell, lefty Stephen Gilbertsen (5-10) is considering a walk-on role at the University of Illinois.

Peterson, who has just one loss in his prep career, is the ace of the staff. He plays first base when he’s not pitching.

Campbell is not a fan of the IHSAA pitch count rules adopted in 2017 (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“There was nothing wrong with 10 innings every three days,” says Campbell. “I’ve been doing this for 48 years and I haven’t had any problems with arms. I was a pitcher.

“It’s not the pitches he throws as a pitcher, it’s what he does next.”

Going into the field after pitching and being asked to throw from deep in the hole at shortstop or from the outfield takes a toll on the arm.

Campbell says there’s bound to overuse by playing and working at baseball 12 months a year and using the same muscles.

“We only played 23 of the 28 games we could have played this spring,” says Campbell. “(Travel teams) are playing 50 and 60 games in the summer time.”

The pitch count rule came into play in the 2017 Chesterton Sectional championship game against Andrean.

The Trojans were leading the 59ers 3-1 when Peterson hit the 120-mark for the day (he pitched in the semifinals against Crown Point and relieved in the finals). With Peterson off the mound, Andrean rallied and won 4-3.

Chesterton plays Duneland Athletic Conference rival Lake Central at 10:30 a.m. CST Saturday. The Trojans and Indians split two games during the regular season.

“Both teams are playing pretty well. It should be a good ball game,” says Campbell, whose team is hitting around .350 in 2018.

The top offensive producers have been junior Chris VanEekeren, senior Tommy Benson (eight home runs and 29 runs batted in), Peterson (24 RBI) and senior Logan Lawson.

The second semifinal at the LaPorte Regional pits Northern Indiana Conference and backyard rivals Mishawaka and Penn. The championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. CST.

Besides Chesterton and champion Lake Central, the DAC includes Crown Point, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso. The past few seasons, teams have played home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Before that, conference games were played Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week and Tuesday and Thursday the next in a double round robin. That format allowed an ace pitcher to be used more often.

Campbell kids if the current conditions were applied when Ken Schreiber was racking up 1,010 victories and seven state titles at LaPorte, he might not have as much hardware.

Looking back to 1976, John Vail and Arden Smith regularly started conference games and used their 10-inning limited on two-game tournament days. One would start and the other would relieve in the morning and then they’d do it again in the championship game.

“Schreib, he was the best tournament coach I’ve ever seen,” says Campbell of the 13-time Hall of Famer who passed away in 2017. “He was the master.”

There’s another reason Campbell does not like the current restrictions.

“Limiting things — pitching-wise — hurts statistics when you nominate for all-state or all-stars,” says Campbell. “In some places, they have more opportunities to pitch. The pitch count rule, it’s just wrong.

“There was nothing wrong with the way the rules were to begin with. Look at football. With concussions, how can you let a kid carry the ball 35 times? In basketball, you should limit the number of 3’s because you’re hurting the shooter’s arm. How many spikes do you get in volleyball?”

Campbell has enjoyed loyalty from his athletes over the years. Just the other day, he received a text that reminisced about the Trojans’ 1988 regional champions.

His 2018 coaching staff includes five former players — Justin Jenks (varsity assistant), Spencer Sutton (varsity volunteer), Chad Dzierba (junior varsity volunteer), John Houseman (freshmen coach) and Toby Gentry (freshmen volunteer). Volunteer Scott Jenks is also on the varsity staff while Rich Myers leads the JV.

Campbell graduated from Lake Station Edison High School in 1962. He went to Indiana University on a basketball scholarship. In the days before freshmen could play on the varsity in college, he won one letter in basketball and three in baseball.

He played for two Hall of Famers — Branch McCracken on the hardwood and Ernie Andres on the diamond — and led the Big Ten Conference in hitting (.361) as an all-conference first baseman during his senior season of 1966.

Campbell began his career as an educator at Valparaiso, working his way up from junior high to high school coaching positions.

After 3 1/2 years in Valpo, he started teaching physical education at Baily Elementary in Chesterton. This is his 48th year in that role.

For the past 30 winters, he has also been Chesterton’s head girls basketball coach and amassed 369 victories, three sectional championships and one regional title. His Trojans went 20-3 in 2017-18 and shared Indiana Basketball Coaches Association District 1 Coach of the Year honors.

Jack and Carol Campbell have four daughters — Carrie, Jill, Jackie and Cat. All four played basketball at Chesterton for their father. Jill went on to play basketball and softball at Valparaiso University, Jackie basketball at Colorado State University and Cat basketball at Indiana Wesleyan University. Carrie (3), Jill (2), Jackie (4) and Cat (3) have given their parents a dozen grandchildren.

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Jack Campbell has been the head baseball coach at Chesterton (Ind.) High School since the 1971 season.

Year of maturity pays off for Mack’s Morgan Township Cherokees

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Going through a tough stretch at the end of the 2017 high school baseball season has paid off for the 2018 Morgan Township Cherokees.

In Cory Mack’s first season as head coach, he took over a program with just two returning varsity starters.

“The other boys were being educated with every game that we played,” says Mack.

Morgan got off to a 15-3 start before hitting a stretch of bigger schedules. Losing one-run games to Valparaiso, Hobart and John Glenn along the way, the IHSAA Class 1A Cherokees (about 250 students) lost nine straight and finished 15-12 in 2017. “It taxed my boys mentally.”

Having gone through that, Morgan did not experience that kind of skid this spring.

“There is maturity,” says Mack. “They know how to make those adjustments that are necessary to right the ship.”

The Cherokees beat Washington Township 8-0 Monday, May 28 to win the fourth sectional in program history (2004, 2012 and 2013 are the others) — avenging a 10-0 regular-season loss to the Senators — and take a 20-5 record into the Caston Regional Saturday, June 2.

“(The loss to Washington Township) burned in the pit of their stomach,” says Mack, who admits to getting upset during that contest. “It may have fueled the fire for sectional.

“The guys could not have played a more fundamentally-sound game (in the rematch).”

Morgan meets Fremont at 11 a.m. EST Saturday, followed by Northfield vs. South Central (Union Mills). The regional final is slated for 7 p.m.

The Cherokees’ top pitchers are senior right-hander Colin Mack (the coach’s youngest son and an Indiana University South Bend commit), junior right-hander Hunter Swivel, senior righty Jeremy Landgrebe and senior lefty Tyler Bush. When not pitching, Mack is at shortstop, Swivel at third base, Landgrebe at second base and Bush sometimes plays first base.

Mack (the school’s all-time hits and stolen base leader), Swivel and senior center fielder Connor Malmquist (a Trine University soccer commit) are hitting above .400 and senior first baseman Colton Rosenbaum and junior catcher Cody Maxwell are over .350.

Morgan has plenty of speed and base-stealing threats.

“We force the issues to make things happen,” says Mack. “As long as we can put a guy on base, we can score without a hit.

“We make something happen when nothing is really working.”

Even though only two seniors are gong to the next level for athletics, most are college-bound.

“They’re all intelligent kids,” says Cory Mack. “Sometimes they think too much and don’t react enough.

“Athletes play off their gut and not their brain.”

Mack’s assistant coaches are Paul Lipski and son Tyler Mack.

The Valparaiso-Based Cherokees play in the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, South Central, Washington Township and Westville).

A 1991 LaCrosse graduate, Mack played four seasons of baseball for the Tigers. His head coach was Bill Drook. He spent a couple years in college before coming home to begin raising a family.

Cory and Michelle Mack have two boys. Seven years separate LaCrosse graduate Tyler Mack and Morgan senior Colin Mack.

The younger son has gained experience with a number of travel baseball organizations over the years, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Prospects, Motor City Baseball Club Hit Dogs, Ironmen Baseball Club, Collier/DB A’s and Midwest Mayhem.

Many of his teammates and opponents are playing or have committed to play at the NCAA Division I level.

“I was trying to expose my son to as many conditions and as many different styles of teammates as I could,” says Mack. “Drop him in anywhere and you’re going to get the same performance.”

For his folks, it’s a chance to do something they really love — spend time together at the ballpark.

“We’re baseball junkies,” says Cory Mack. “We live for this stuff. For my wife and I, it’s like vacation. It’s fun to watch a kid who loves playing. We’ve been everywhere with this kid.

“It’’s been a blast.”

Colin Mack has played  multiple times at places like the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and East Cobb. His club won a title in a 106-team tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park.

In all of his years of coaching and watching travel baseball, Cory Mack has witnessed too many younger kids throwing breaking balls.

“A lot of coaches letting kids throw curve balls way too soon,” says Mack, noting that the strain takes its tolls on arms, muscles and ligaments that are still developing. “Guys rely on a curveball before they can locate a fastball. The curveball is just putting miles on an engine. Every dad in the world needs to teach his kid to locate a fastball and throw a straight change.

“Kids always think the curve ball is sexy, but the only thing it does is slow the ball down. The change-up does the same thing.”

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Cory Mack (far right in top photo and far left in bottom photo) is in his second season as head baseball coach at Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso. His Cherokees are in the IHSAA Class 1A Caston Regional Saturday, June 2.

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Valparaiso graduate Suiter adds Mexico to list of baseball experiences

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s funny how life and baseball works.

Jerrick Suiter is closing up shop at a GNC store in Fort Worth, Texas, when he gets a call to join the Mexican Pacific League pennant chase.

Two days later, the former Valparaiso High School and Texas Christian University standout is off to new experiences with the Venados de Mazatlan.

Suiter, an outfielder, corner infielder and designated hitter in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, plays his first game South of the Border Dec. 21 and goes 2-for-3 with a run batted in on Christmas Day.

“This is my first time in winter ball and first time in Mexico — ever,” says Suiter. “It’s been quite an experience. I’ve learned a lot of Spanish.

“It’s going to help me with my Latin teammates. I can feel what they were going through their first time in the States. I have a greater appreciation for that now.”

When he’s not at the stadium or heading to the gym, Suiter has found time to soak up the sun. The team has set him up in a condo 50 yards from the beach.

Recent daytime temperatures have been in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s been around 40 in north central Texas and in the single digits or lower in northwest Indiana.

Suiter, who has been used primarily as a DH since he had not been throwing much in the off-season, would like to be a part of a couple of championship before reporting to 2018 spring training at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., where he is due Feb. 19 — two weeks before his 25th birthday on March 4.

Mazatlan opened its season Oct. 11 and is closing in on the end of the regular season with hopes of winning the league and a berth in the Caribbean Series (which will bring champions from Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela to Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico).

In Mexico, Suiter has been reunited with Gerardo Alvarez, who managed the Bradenton Marauders in 2017.

After hurting his thumb at the end of spring camp, Suiter played briefly in the High Class-A Florida State League before joining the Altoona Curve of the Double-A Eastern League, where the right-handed swinger hit .285 with 10 home runs, three triples, 20 doubles and 58 runs batted in over 347 at-bats and 100 games.

Altoona beat Trenton to win EL title. Sutter had an RBI in the final game.

If the Pirates give him a promotion, Suiter would play Triple-A baseball with the Indianapolis Indians.

Suiter, who was selected in the 26th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after three seasons at TCU, made an adjustment in the batter’s box in 2017.

“I was very wide and kind of low,” says Suiter of his stance. “It was killing any chance I had to put some juice into the ball. Now, I’m pretty tall, kind of (Ken) Griffey-esque with my hands a little lower. I see the ball a little bit longer and use my legs more than the rest of my body to generate some power.”

Suiter, who stands 6-foot-4 and currently weighs around 250 pounds, has been an avid lifter for years, but he is not trying to get too big.

“I don’t need to put on much size,” says Suiter, who usually reports to spring training around 250, drops five pounds by the end of camp and five or 10 more during the season. “Size in baseball doesn’t do you any good. It’s going to make you slow and not very flexible. I know how my body works and that I lose weight very quickly. I’m looking to get stronger while leaning out.”

A football, basketball and baseball standout at Valpo (he was the Northwest Indiana Times Male Athlete of the Year in 2011), Suiter got a chance to spend a lot of time on the gridiron and diamond with coach Dave Coyle.

“He was a big discipline guy,” says Suiter of Coyle. “I loved him as a coach. He wanted to the best for his team and for his players.”

Work ethic was important to Coyle just like it was to Eric Suiter, who coached Jerrick and company as they grew up playing sports.

“My dad was extremely hard on me as well as the rest of the team,” says Jerrick. “It made me into the athlete I am today. I couldn’t thank him more for it.”

Jerrick’s father lives in Valpo and mother Jeanette in Chesterton. His sister Danielle Suiter plays volleyball at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Half-brother Carter just played his first Pop Warner football season in Chesterton. Step-sister Hailey is a student at Purdue University.

Jerrick was working toward a degree in Habilitation of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing before leaving TCU early for pro baseball. He has relatives on his father’s side that are deaf or hard of hearing and knows both basic and American Sign Language.

“I started signs before I was talking,” says Suiter. “I don’t use it every single day like I should, but I know more sign language than I know Spanish, I can tell you that.”

He was planning to go back to school when Bradenton made the playoffs in 2016, which meant he would be too late for the start of the fall semester. Suiter spends his off-seasons in Fort Worth and does some hitting at TCU.

“I love the city,” says Suiter, an Indiana Bulls travel baseball alumnus who was drafted in 2011 by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school but persuaded to play at TCU by former Horned Frogs recruiting coordinator Tony Vitello (who is now on the staff at the University of Arkansas) and played for head coach Jim Schlossnagle.

“He finds a way to win,” says Suiter of Schlossnagle, who now has Kirk Saarloos as a recruiting coordinator. “He brings the right guys in there. They’ve been to Omaha (for the College World Series) every year since my junior year. Something’s going right there.”

While he long wanted to be a pro baseball player, Suiter has an affinity for the hardwood.

“Basketball has always been my favorite sport,” says Suiter. “I’m not a big NBA guy, but I love watching college basketball.”

During winter break his sophomore year at TCU, he helped coach fifth and sixth grade AAU players. Shooting around on the court was one way he warmed up for his workouts.

But he has stopped doing that.

“The Pirates are writing my paychecks every two weeks,” says Suiter. “I don’t need to be roll a ankle or jeopardize my career in baseball.”

JERRICKSUITERALTOONA17DAVIDHAGUE

Jerrick Suiter, the former Valparaiso High School and Texas Christian University standout, takes a cut in 2017 for the Altoona (Pa.) Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A team. (David Hague Photo)

 

Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame calls ‘Old School’ Murphy of Valparaiso

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Murphy describes himself as “Old School.”

Murphy stayed loyal to his old school and his community, choosing to remain in Valparaiso — the city of his birth.

He attended Valpo schools and graduated from Valparaiso High School as senior class president in 1961.

Along the way, Murphy shined in football, basketball and baseball. He picked up plenty of baseball knowledge from nice man named Bob Rhoda — a coach he admired and, one day, would replace as the man in charge of the Vikings on the diamond.

His peers thought enough of Murphy’s career that he will be inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2018 at a dinner Saturday, Jan. 27 in Indianapolis. Other honorees will include Rich Andriole, Colin Lister, LaTroy Hawkins and Howard Kellman.

After his days as Valparaiso student, Murphy traveled less than 50 miles south for higher education, attending Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer and graduating in 1965 as a social studies major and English minor.

Where did he go from there?

Back to Valpo, of course.

Murphy took a teaching job at his alma mater that would last 37 years. He taught a few English classes in the early years then concentrated on social studies and helped generations know about U.S. Government and U.S. History.

Pat and wife Nancy would raise two boys — Michael and Tim.

Michael went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and become a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Marines, leading a squadron of Stingrays at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, while marrying and giving his folks two granddaughters. Tim earned a doctorate in cultural anthropology and moved out east.

Both Murphy boys gave their parents — married 45 years in 2017 — a reason to travel with Michael stationed for three years in Spain and Tim spending time in Brazil. In retirement, Pat enjoys walking with Nancy and sometimes gets her to accompany him on the golf course.

Back in Porter County, Indiana, their father was making a mark as a educator and a coach.

Pat Murphy spent 19 seasons on the Vikings football staff led by a pair of Indiana Football Hall of Famers — Tom Stokes and Mark Hoffman.

With Stokes in charge, Valpo won an IHSAA Class 3A state championship in 1975 — the first of three straight 3A title-takers from the Duneland Athletic Conference. Merrillville was state champions in 1976 and Portage reigned in 1977.

“It was up to the ball and go,” says Murphy of Valpo’s single-wing attack. “We wore teams down.”

Murph spent four seasons as a VHS baseball assistant to Rhoda then led the program for 28 more, retiring after the 1999 season.

“He was a very nice person, a very kind man,” says Murphy of Rhoda, who is also in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. “He was very knowledgeable.”

Murphy went into the Valparaiso Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010 after leading his team to 483 victories, 13 sectional crowns and two DAC championships.

All this was achieved against a schedule that regularly featured IHSBCA Hall of Fame coaches — men like LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Andrean’s Dave Pishkur, Highland’s Dan Miller, Plymouth’s Bill Nixon and Munster’s Bob Shinkan.

You had to play a hard-nosed brand of baseball to have any success.

“I had to play Schreib (at LaPorte) a minimum of three times (regular season and postseason) to get out of the regional,” says Murphy. “There were times four Duneland schools were in the regional.

“It was extremely competitive. You have to mean business. It’s not something you take lightly. In fact, you take it very seriously. In one week, I may play against three Halll of Famers.

“I’m honored to be considered one of them.”

Murphy’s philosophy: “Work hard, play smart, and most of all, have fun!”

“You can’t get things done unless you work hard,” says Murphy.

The catcher who blocks nasty pitch after nasty pitch is able to do so because of all the time he spent having balls whizzed at him in practice.

“Catchers are like (hockey) goalies, making 40 or 50 saves a game,” says Murphy. “You don’t get that unless you work hard at it.”

Staying with the catcher example, the man behind the mask must have the smarts to know the situation — the score, number of outs, position of runners and order of hitters coming up and what they had done the last time up.

“In baseball, there are more variables than most sports,” says Murphy. “Of course, I’m biased.”

Murphy says fun is an essential additive to this mix.

“Life’s too short not to have fun,” says Murphy. “Whether it’s coaching, teaching or your job,  it can be a real tough thing to do if you dread what you’re doing.”

A true-blue Chicago Cubs fan, Murphy notes that the 2016 World Series champions were a team that had fun while they were winning.

Murphy and his assistant coaches over the years taught young Vikings the game and then sent them into competition.

“You hope they perform the way you’ve told them, but kids are kids and sometimes it’s an adventure,” says Murphy. “You have to remember, these are 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids.”

Biff Geiss was a Murphy assistant the longest. A successful player at DePauw University, he came to VHS to teach languages and helped Murphy impart many baseball lessons.

Murphy expresses gratitude to many baseball assistants who also offered their talents to other sports. Among those are Todd Coffin, Dale Gott,  Zane Cole, Dave Coyle, Rich Spicer, Steve Krutz, Jeff Wood, Gary Gray and John Gutierrez.

Current Valpo head baseball coach Todd Evans was a senior in Murphy’s last season in 1999. The former program leader likes what he sees.

“Todd has brought back things to the sport that are important,” says Murphy. “Things like punctuality, loyalty and accountability. Some of those things aren’t there any more in school or sports.”

Murphy recalls having two at least full teams playing summer games in June and July. That has been replaced by travel baseball when Valparaiso’s high school season ends.

“That’s not right,” says Murphy. “I’m pretty old school. But you have to have pretty deep pockets (for travel ball). Many kids who can’t do that. Some coaches are trophy hounds. I don’t know how much fundamental baseball is being taught and it takes away from the chemistry of the high school team the way it used to be.

“It was nice to see them playing Legion ball (for Valparaiso Post 94), too.”

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PATMURPHYVALPO

Pat Murphy is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in January 2018. He was head baseball coach at his alma mater — Valparaiso High School — for 28 seasons and won 483 games.

Evans building a family with Valparaiso Vikings baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coach Todd Evans likes to think of his Valparaiso High School baseball team as a family.

Evans relishes the opportunity to teach his young Vikings about more than hitting, running, pitching and fielding.

There are the life lessons that carry them on to being husbands, fathers and productive citizens.

“Wins and losses are one thing,” says Evans, a 1999 VHS graduate who has been coaching baseball at his alma mater since the early 2000’s and is heading into his fourth season as head coach in 2018. “I want them to come away saying they learned more than baseball. I want them to be a good friend and teammate and, later, a father and member of the community.

“I’m looking to build a family just past my own.”

All of those years but the first his assistant has been big brother Chad (Valparaiso Class of 1996).

“It’s a family affair on a game day,” says Todd, who regularly sees wife Janelle, daughter Evangeline and son Sullivan at the park along with Chad’s wife Holly, daughter Lilly and son Aaron.

Todd and Chad’s parents — Dale and Cindy — and Janelle’s mother — Jaclyn — can also been seen cheering on the Vikings.

That rooting section is going to get a little bigger soon.

Todd and Janelle are expecting another girl in January. Todd won’t be surprised if he gets called away from an early-morning training session with his baseball players.

Todd Evans was a football, wrestling and baseball athlete at VHS — competing for three Hall of Fame coaches (Mark Hoffman in football, John Cook in wrestling and Pat Murphy in baseball).

Evans walked on in baseball at Valparaiso University for then-Crusaders coach Paul Twenge.

Evans coached one baseball season at Westville High School then became a three-sport coach at Valpo High.

Starting in 2001, Evans has been a football assistant for Hoffman and then Dave Coyle and has moved to the freshmen team since becoming head baseball coach.

Evans was head wrestling coach at VHS before giving up that position in 2009 and has since become a mat official.

He started as a freshmen coach when Mickey Morandini was head baseball coach, moved to varsity assistant under Coyle and then replaced Coyle as head coach heading into the 2015 season.

Each of his coaches has lent something to Evans’ coaching style.

“I’m a little mold of every bit and piece I’ve taken,” says Evans, who is now 37. “In coaching three different sports, there are different mentalities. In football, you rely on everybody around you. Wrestling is about the individual. Baseball is a combination of both. You have to focus in and do your job at that specific time.”

Murphy goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January.

“He was coaching against Hall of Fame coaches his whole career — guys like Ken Schreiber, Dave Pishkur, Jack Campbell and Bob Shinkan. This is a nice honor for him,” says Evans, who played on Murphy’s last Vikings squad. “Murph was a no-nonsense guy.”

Evans saw in Coyle a very organized and prepared coach.

“I still run my practice similar to the way he did,” says Evans.

A 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher, Evans is grateful to Twenge (who is now head baseball coach at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota) for the opportunity he gave him to play college baseball in his hometown.

“Paul took a gamble on me,” says Evans, who would be the Crusaders’ closer by the end of his freshmen season. “He was the epitome of a players’ coach. You wanted to come to practice everyday. A lot of what (Twenge) did was routine, but once you got into the game you were prepared for those things.”

Evans does the same with his VHS players and concentrates on fundamentals.

“I want to be prepared for 90 to 99 percent of those situations,” says Evans. “Our kids will not bat an eye when those things occur.”

Another thing Evans gained in his college baseball experience was relationships — people who have continued to be in his life long after his VU graduation in 2003.

“You’ve got to love the you’re playing next to,” says Evans. “I’ve got 10-plus seniors (at VHS) and they’ve played with each other for a long time. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m looking forward to it.”

Three of Evans’ seniors have already committed to play college baseball — Nick Caputo at Wabash College, Marcus Gholston at Arizona Western College and Gunnar Pullins at Olivet Nazarene University.

Max Roberts, a 2016 VHS graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The 6-5 left-handed pitcher is the son of Washington Township High School head coach Randy Roberts.

Evans’ paid assistants for 2018 besides brother Chad include VHS graduates Chance Garrison and Greg Simms. John Nuppnau is a volunteer.

It varies, but Evans likes to have 15 to 18 players on his varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

“This year’s freshman extremely talented so I might push that number up to 20,” says Evans. “I try to have depth with the new pitching rules. More is better than less. We try to make everyone a pitcher at some time or other.”

Valparaiso plays on-campus on Viking Field. Last fall, pads and netted railings were added to the sunken dugouts. This was done for safety and also added more room to the bench area.

Evans says a referendum was passed in Valparaiso that could bring turf and lights to the field in the next few years.

“I’m not sure on the timeline,” says Evans. “It would be nice to be the first school in Porter County to have turf and may be able to host a sectional.”

The Vikings played in the IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional in 2017 and are grouped with Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Merrillville and Portage in 2018. Valpo’s last sectional crown came in 2012.

The Duneland Athletic Conference, a circuit established in 1970, counts the Vikings as charter members. Other DAC schools are Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Portage.

As in the past few seasons, conference games will be Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series in 2018.

“The thought process behind this is that you couldn’t have same pitcher beat you twice,” says Evans.

LaPorte’s Evan Miller actually beat Valpo three times — twice in the regular season and then the sectional — a few years ago before the new format.

Evans, who is also a physical education teacher at VHS, has witnessed a change since his playing days and feels a responsibility.

“Kids now have more individual training and expect a higher level of coaching and competition,” says Evans. “It’s my job to see that when they step out against a D-I pitcher here and a D-I pitcher there that they are not made a fool of. They are prepared and can let their skills taken over.”

Block V 2018

TODD&CHADEVANS

The Evans brothers — Todd (left) and Chad — have been coaching baseball together at their alma mater for more than a decade. Todd is heading into his fourth season as Vikings head coach in 2018.