Tag Archives: Valparaiso University

Bridges wants Hanover Central Wildcats to be smart, aggressive on bases

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Power may not show up at the field every day.

But there’s no reason aggressiveness on the base paths can’t be a part of each game.

That’s the way third-year Hanover Central High School head baseball coach Ryan Bridges sees it as he looks forward to the 2019 season.

“We did a very good job last year of taking the extra base,” says Bridges, who played four seasons at Griffith (Ind.) High School and five at Purdue University. “We’d see the ball in the dirt and were gone. It’s something I expect out of each one of my kids — to be a good, aggressive base runners.

“We always try to put pressure on the defense and make them make a play. High school kids are prone to make mistakes — even the best of them. A little bit of pressure can go a long way.

“You’re not always going to have those boppers. You can teach these kids to run bases and keep going. I can keep playing that style.”

Bridges and his Wildcats are part of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting as baseball-playing members).

To get his team ready for the postseason, Bridges has beefed up the non-conference schedule. It includes contests against IHSAA members Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell, Munster, Portage and Valparaiso and Illiana Christian, an Illinois High School Association school in Dyer, Ind.

A year ago, Bridges took his team to McCutcheon (now led by former Purdue head coach Doug Schreiber).

A game in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary is scheduled against Lowell on Friday, April 12.

Hanover Central (enrollment around 715) is part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Kankakee Valley, Knox, Twin Lakes and Wheeler. The Wildcats have won one sectional crown — 2011. That team went on to be 2A state runners-up.

Bridges played for head coach Brian Jennings at Griffith and graduated in 2007.

A corner infielder and designated hitter for Purdue, Bridges appeared in 126 games (85 as a starter) and hit .288 with six home runs and 61 runs batted in. A back injury in his freshmen season led to a medical redshirt.

“I enjoyed every second of all five years of it,” says Bridges of his Purdue days.

He credits Schreiber for his attention to detail whether it was a bunt play, study tables or the amount of commitment it took to achieve excellence.

“He likes things done a certain way,” says Bridges. “If kids understand the level of commitment needed at the next level, it will help them for the four years of high school.”

Recent HC graduates with college programs include Troy Cullen and Jose Sanchez at Indiana University South Bend, Michael Biegel at Calumet College of St. Joseph and Eric Lakomek at Wabash College. Among players Bridges coached at Griffith there’s Kody Hoese at Tulane University and Amir Wright at Saint Leo University.

Current Wildcats shortstop Nolan Tucker has signed with Valparaiso University. Sophomore center fielder Jared Comia has received D-I offers.

Purdue was Big Ten Conference champions in Bridges’ final season (2012). Two of his Boliermaker teammates — catcher Kevin Plawecki and pitcher Nick Wittgren — are now with the Cleveland Indians.

Bridges graduated from Purdue and has a special education endorsement and masters degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. He taught in the Griffith system and was an assistant on Jennings’ baseball staff for four seasons before going to Hanover Central, where he teaches physical education at the middle school in addition to going baseball.

While he may not have been that way when he was playing for him, Bridges says he saw Jennings come to the see the value of giving his players a physical and mental break when it’s needed.

“We get the whole week off before tryouts,” says Bridges of his Wildcats program. “Once it starts, there’s no break.

“That’s pretty important.”

During this IHSAA limited contact period where coaches can lead their teams in baseball activities for two hours two times a week, Bridges has players coming in at 5:30 a.m.

“We have quite a few basketball kids,” says Bridges. “Coach (Bryon) Clouse is nice enough to let my pitchers throw.”

“I the way they have it set up now,” says Bridges. “Coaches are aren’t running these kids four days a week in January and February.

“But I wish they would let pitchers throw a little more. Arm care is important and some of these kids have nowhere to throw — not only pitchers, but position players.”

Hanover Central pitchers began bullpens this week. Bridges will slowly progress their pitch counts moving up to the first official day of practice (March 11) and beyond.

“I’ll use more arms earlier in the (season) before I can get arms in shape,” says Bridges, who does not recall any of his hurlers reaching the limit of the pitch count rule 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). I’m very precautionary when it comes to that. Some of these kids have futures (as college pitchers).”

Bridges’ coaching staff features Nic Sampognaro, Cole Mathys, Anthony Gomez and Mike Halls. Sampognaro is a 2011 Hanover Central graduate who played at Saint Joseph’s College. Volunteer Mathys is also an HC graduate. Gomez played at Munster and moved on to Vincennes University and Ball State University. Halls is in charge of the Wildcats’ junior varsity.

Noting that the community is growing and that there are a number of baseball players in the eighth grade, Bridges says there is the possibility of having a C-team in the future.

Hanover Central is located in Cedar Lake, Ind. Cedar Lake also sends some students to Crown Point. Some St. John students wind up at Hanover Central.

Hanover Central Middle School fields a team for Grades 6-8 in the fall.

In the summer, there is Cedar Lake Youth Baseball and Saint John Youth Baseball. Both offer teams for Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth players. There are also a number of area travel ball organizations.

Bridges has known John Mallee for two decades. He went to him for hitting lessons as a kid. He is now a hitting advisor for Mallee and this summer will coach the Northwest Indiana Shockers 16U team. Indoor workouts are held at All Aspects Baseball and Softball Academy in South Chicago Heights, Ill., and The Sparta Dome in Crown Point, Ind. Mallee is the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Catcher Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, made his professional debut in the Phillies system in 2018.

Hanover Central plays it home games on-campus. Since Bridges has been with the Wildcats, they have added a batting cage behind the home dugout and got a portable “Big Bubba” portable batting cage and pitching machine.

“We always looking to improve the field,” says Bridges. “But I want to help the kids first with their skills.”

Ryan and Nicole Bridges have a daughter. Harper turns 2 in March.

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The Hanover Central Wildcats (Hanover Central Graphic)

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Head coach Ryan Bridges and his Hanover Central Wildcats baseball team.

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The baseball team from Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., gathers at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary. The Wildcats, coached by Ryan Bridges, are to play at the home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats again April 12, 2019.

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The Bridges family (from left): Ryan, Nicole and Harper. Ryan Bridges is head baseball coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. He teaches physical education at Hanover Central Middle School.

 

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Tiegs getting Indiana State pitchers ready for rigors of 2019 season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana State University opens its 2019 baseball season with a three-game series Feb. 15-17 at Jacksonville (Fla.) University.

Fifth-year Sycamores pitching coach Jordan Tiegs is getting ISU arms ready for the opener and beyond.

“We’re full-go,” says Tiegs. “We’re building guys now. Some are up to four innings. We’d like our starters to be able to go six innings that first weekend.”

The process has been happening with both both scrimmages and bullpen sessions. They train with overload and underload throwing balls.

“We want to get it as close to what it’s like during the season as possible,” says Tiegs. Pitchers generally pitch live in intrasquad games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday while there is more bullpen work on Monday through Thursday.

ISU’s online roster lists 17 pitchers. All three of the team’s weekend starters from 2018 when the Sycamores went 31-24 overall and 11-10 in the Missouri Valley Conference — senior left-hander Triston Polley (Brownsburg High School graduate), senior right-hander Tyler Ward (Heritage Hills) and junior left-hander Tristan Weaver — return.

Polley went 7-2, Ward 6-3 and Weaver 3-5 in 2018.

Redshirt junior right-hander Colin Liberatore, who pitched at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016, is in the starting mix. Weekday starter Weston Rivers is not back.

While primary closer Ethan Larrison (25 appearances with nine saves) has moved on to professional baseball, 6-foot-5 junior left-hander Tyler Grauer (21 appearances with three saves) did some closing in 2018 and he’s back.

“We lost a lot of leads in sixth and seventh innings last year,” says Tiegs. “That will be a big emphasis this year.”

New pieces in the bullpen include right-handers Austin Cross, Zach Frey, Ross Kramer and Jake Ridgway and lefty Geremy Guerrero.

Cross, a 6-7 junior, is one of seven pitchers on the staff who were in junior college last season.

Tiegs calls junior Frey, also a JC transfer, a “competitive bulldog” who throws strikes.

Coming to Indiana State as a two-way player as a JC transfer, the Sycamores have decided to let junior Kramer focus on pitching.

“He may have the best arm on the staff,” says Tiegs.

Sophomore Ridgway impressed ISU coaches during a showcase camp and was made a full-time pitcher as a freshman.

Junior Guerrero is considered a “swing” man who could be used as a starter or in long or short relief.

Being tall with long limbs is helpful for a pitcher.

But size is not always the determining factor in success.

“In a perfect world, they could all be 6-3 and 215 (the average size of a big league starter),” says Tiegs. “But what about the 5-9 guy who throws in the low to mid 90’s and can really spin it and is really competitive?.

“We have a bit of a mix here,” says Tiegs, who has 6-9 junior left-hander Will Buraconak and 5-9 freshman righty Paul Wendling in the pitching corps. “Both are going to help us a lot.”

Of course the plan on paper in February is not always what unfolds by May.

But one thing is constant.

“We want guys who are going to compete for the right reasons and execute their game plan,” says Tiegs of his pitchers. “We want to generate as much weak contact as we can.

“For some guys play book is simple. For some, it’s more complicated. It’s what they can handle.”

When recruiting, Tiegs wants pitchers who have a feel for the game around them and not ones who “can win the 60-foot, 6-inch battle” only.

“These are the ones who can’t hold runners and can’t field their positions,” says Tiegs. “Guys don’t work on these days as much as they used to.

“You can forget that a whole game is being played.”

Tiegs works for Sycamores head coach Mitch Hannahs.

“He’s a very smart baseball guy,” says Tiegs of Hannahs. “He knows what pitching means to a team. It can make or break your entire season.”

Hannahs gives his perspective while giving Tiegs the freedom to develop his staff his way.

“As a former infielder, he has a pretty good feel for what pitchers go through on the mental side,” says Tiegs.

The mental side of the game is something that is addressed daily by Tiegs in practice.

“We get them in the right frame of mind on the mind,” says Tiegs. “We want them to be in control of their thoughts and in the moment.

“They should keep things as simple as possible and not get the wheels spinning too much.”

Speaking of spinning, Indiana State does keep tabs on spin rate, spin axis and rotation using Rapsodo technology.

Tiegs notes that the use of TrackMan is another way of getting analytic feedback.

This can help players “develop a better version of themselves.”

“We don’t want to overkill with it,” says Tiegs. “It’s just another tool.”

Tiegs is a 2005 graduate of Huron Park Secondary School in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada.

There was no high school baseball in his district. But he played on an elite travel team. The London Badgers played about 80 games a year from April to September with three or four tournaments in the U.S.

Tiegs also participated in volleyball, basketball, hockey and tennis and is definitely a believer in the concept of the multi-sport athlete.

“It can hurt your athletic growth if you eliminate things at a younger age,” says Tiegs. “Using different movements, it’s only going to help in baseball with agility and coordination.

“The more you can be exposed to that stuff is only going to benefit you. You’re going to get enough isolated work when you get to college.”

Tiegs wants his pitchers to be as athletic as possible.

“Pitchers can get a bad rap at being the non-athletes on the field,” says Tiegs, who has his ISU hurlers go through circuit training — strength and mobility — each day before they ever throw a baseball.

Tiegs was a pitcher and was selected selected in the 46th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft by the Cincinnati Reds, but played opted instead for college baseball. He played at Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, Ill., the College of Charleston in South Carolina and wound up at the University of Indianapolis.

The head coach at Sauk Valley was Al Ready, who is now head coach at UIndy.

Keith Hatfield, now head coach at Center Grove High School, was his pitching coach at UIndy.

“In 2009, we had a lot of talent on the mound,” says Tiegs. “We had to make sure guys were in the zone with their stuff. The only way we were going to get beat was with free bases.”

Tiegs delivers the same message to the Sycamores.

“We want our guys to constantly apply pressure and the pressure will be on them,” says Tiegs.

Before coming to ISU, Tiegs was the U of I Greyhounds pitching coach for three seasons on the staff of head coach Gary Vaught.

Having played and coached at the two levels, what is the main difference in NCAA Division I and II from a pitching perspective?

“It’s in the depth of lineups you see day in and day out,” says Tiegs. “You can get away with more mistakes (in D-II). With the better D-I teams, you need to be sharp for 7, 8, 9 guys in lineup. When they hit your mistakes, it’s usually louder.”

Jordan and wife Chelsea Tiegs are expecting their first child in late March.

In its preseason poll, Missouri Valley Conference head coaches have picked Indiana State to finish third behind Missouri State and Dallas Baptist and ahead of Bradley, Southern Illinois, Illinois State, Valparaiso and Evansville.

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Jordan Tiegs was a player and pitching coach at the University of Indianapolis before going to Indiana State University as pitching coach. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

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Jordan Tiegs is the baseball pitching coach at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind. (Indiana State University Photo)

 

Former Valpo U. head coach Twenge earns national recognition in Minnesota

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Paul Twenge was head baseball coach at Valparaiso (Ind.) University for 19 seasons (1988-2006). He is the Crusaders’ all-time leader in games won (378) and games coached (1,011). Second on that list is Emory G. Bauer with 359 wins and 606 games.

Before leading teams at the NCAA Division I level, Twenge was head coach at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, Minn., where he earned 122 victories. The 1985 team won a Minnesota state title and qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association region tournament.

Since leaving Valpo, Twenge has been the head baseball coach at Minnetonka High School on the southwest side of Minneapolis.

Using his college experience and the lessons he’s learned from other professional and college coaches, he guides the Skippers in Minnesota State High School League play. Competing in the state’s largest class, Minnetonka (enrollment around 3,000) was a Class 4A state runner-up in 2018.

Twenge was presented with the American Baseball Coaches Association/Diamond National High School Division I Coach of the Year award at the 2019 ABCA Convention in Dallas.

“It’s crazy to believe you’re the one they picked out of 15,000 coaches,” says Twenge.

Attending and often speaking at events like the ABCA Convention in January, Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association clinic in October and others, Twenge finds ways to keep things current for his Minnetonka players.

“We try to add something new,” says Twenge. “So the information doesn’t go stale, we find a different way of saying it.

“An athlete does not know what they don’t know. If you never introduce it to them, they’ll never understand it. Certain aspects are similar on all three levels (pro, college, high school). I’m a big proponent from learning at the highest level and applying it where I’m at.”

 

It’s all about the Baseball I.Q of his players.

“We want them to understand the game,” says Twenge. “When our athletes leave here for college, they have a good foundation for that coach to build on.

“Hopefully, that athlete will be easier to coach. Hopefully, they can learn at a higher speed.”

Twenge oversees a program with up to 90 players. The Skippers field five teams — varsity, junior varsity, sophomore, freshmen A and freshmen B.

“You better be coordinated or you’re going to cause a lot of issues,” says Twenge, whose teams have two turf fields on-campus, which helps in Minnesota’s typically-cool and damp spring climate. “We’re not fighting the elements. If the temperature is 35, we’re playing — as long as there’s no lightning.”

Twenge notes one of the differences between high school baseball in Minnesota and Indiana.

“The developmental process in Indiana allows a little longer time than we have,” says Twenge. “It comes sooner and lasts longer.

“Generally speaking, we’re about three weeks behind Indiana.”

Starting the last week of March and finishing the third week of June, Minnetonka plays at least 22 regular-season games plus the state tournament series. If the Skippers make it through the sectional, they advance to the state finals.

Besides being head baseball coach, Twenge is his school’s activities coordinator.

“Our goal of Minnetonka is to have as many students as possible involved in an activity,” says Twenge.

On the sports side, hockey is huge. The Skippers won a Class 2A state boys championship on the ice in 2018. No. 1-ranked Minnetonka has been invited to participate in Hockey Day Minnesota Saturday, Jan. 19 in Bemidji.

At a school that has crossover athletes, Twenge welcomes some hockey players to the diamond in the spring.

“Baseball is a down time for them,” says Twenge. “They’re on elite (hockey teams) in the summer.”

Twenge, who played baseball and football at Mayville State University in North Dakota and earned his masters degree from South Dakota State University, still keeps tabs on Indiana.

“We lived there 19 years,” says Twenge. “You check on your friends to see how they’re doing and hopefully they’re doing well.”

Paul and Dawn Twenge have three adult children. Alyson Twenge is a teacher in California and a former diver at South Dakota State. Both sons live in Minnesota. Alex Twenge is a chiropractor and former baseball player at the University of North Dakota. Axel Twenge is hoping to apply to law school soon. He played baseball at North Dakota State University.

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Since the 2007 season, Paul Twenge has been the head baseball coach at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota. He was head baseball coach at Valparaiso (Ind.) University for 19 seasons (1988-2006).

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Paul Twenge was presented with the American Baseball Coaches Association National High School Division I Coach of the Year award at the 2019 ABCA Convention in Dallas.

Vernon brings ‘culture change’ to Benton Central Bison baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball players are buying what Jon Vernon’s selling at Benton Central Junior-Senior High School in Oxford, Ind.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have some good athletes and good players,” says Vernon, who is heading into his fourth season as BC head coach in 2019. “They’ve bought into my system.”

The Bison have improved its record in each of Vernon’s first three seasons in charge, going 10-17 in 2016, 17-9 in 2017 and 19-6 in 2018.

Benton Central lost 9-2 to Western in the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A West Lafayette Sectional championship game.

BC bowed out of the state tournament series with a  3-2 loss to Maconaquah on a seventh-inning wild pitch in the first round of the 2018 3A Peru Sectional.

“We changed the culture a little bit,” says Vernon, whose current seniors have been varsity since freshmen year. That group includes three who have signed for college baseball —

Center fielder Payton Hall (University of Southern Indiana), right-handed pitcher/third baseman Alex Stout (Bethel College) and first baseman/left-hander Matt Taylor (Anderson University).

Right-hander Taylor Varnado, BC’s probable No. 1 starting pitcher in 2019 and a third baseman, is expected to sign soon. Junior shortstop Alex Thurston is verbally committed to Valparaiso University.

Vernon says he expects to have about 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring. The JV went 11-6 in 2018.

Benton Central (enrollment of about 580) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

Teams play a home-and-home within their division then a crossover game with the corresponding regular-season placer in the other division.

BC is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

The Bison roam on-campus at Darrell Snodgrass Field, a facility that recently received new fencing and upgraded dugouts and sound system. The worked on the diamond in the fall, doing things like edging.

A unique feature is the sounds of wind turbines. Benton County is home to wind farms.

With all that breeze, Vernon says it is best to be conservative field conditioner in the like in the autumn.

“You put too much stuff down in the fall, it won’t be there in the spring,” says Vernon.

Vernon’s 2019 assistants include Denny Musser and pitching coach Brad Goffinet with the varsity and Tyler Marsh with the junior varsity. Musser, the uncle of former Benton Central and professional left-hander Neal Musser, was a JV coach at BC on the staff of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary DeHaven.

Neal Musser pitched 18 games for the 2007 and 2008 Kansas City Royals.

The southpaw was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets.

Goffinet pitched at Indianapolis Marshall High School and Butler University in the 1970’s. Marsh is a former North Newton High School assistant.

Right-hander Jayson Best graduated from Benton Central in 1985 and played at Milligan College in Elizabethtown, Tenn., before signing with the Minnesota Twins in 1989. He reached the Double-A level in 1992 and 1993 and hurled for the independent Lafayette (Ind.) Leopards in 1996 and 1997. He was pitching at Goshen College 2000-04 (one season for Todd Bacon and four for Brent Hoober) and Maple Leafs head coach in 2005.

Benton Central baseball is largely fed by travel baseball organizations, including the Lafayette Lightning and Indiana Nitro. In the past, teams have played Pony League and Babe Ruth.

Vernon is a 1989 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School. He played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr.

Turner’s Berries lost 6-2 to Evansville Memorial in the 1989 IHSAA state championship game. Vernon was his left fielder and lead-off hitter. It was the first of Logan’s three straight Final Four appearances. The Berries 7-3 in the state semifinals to eventual champion LaPorte in 1990 and beat Marion for the state title in 1991.

What was it like to play for Turner Sr.?

“It was a great experience,” says Vernon. “He knows more about baseball is his little pinky than I do in my whole body.”

Turner Sr., who was assisted for many years by Larry “Butch” Jones and Rich Wild, established a winning culture and a program.

“You didn’t want to let coach down,” says Vernon. “He trusted his players. A lot of people revere him.”

As a coach, Vernon learned from Turner Sr. that “you always have to play the best players” and it doesn’t matter what they’re family name is what grade they’re in.

“Sometimes that makes people happy and sometimes it doesn’t,” says Vernon. “If you want to win, that’s what you have to do. Sometimes you have to make those tough decisions.”

After a season of club baseball at the University of Kentucky, Vernon went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Huntington University and master’s degree from Ball State University. He was head baseball coach at Delphi (Ind.) High School from 1994-2000 and assisted Jim Turner Jr. at Logansport for one season in the mid-2000’s and ran Turner’s summer programs.

He picked up pointers on organization and running practice from Turner Jr. Vernon was also head volleyball coach for the Berries.

After a brief stint in Florida, he came back to Indiana. He teaches business and computer classes at Benton Central has been BC’s head volleyball coach for three seasons.

Jon and Diann Vernon have been married for 25 years. They have four children — Matthew, Luke, Kailey and Karlee. Matthew works in finance for Amazon and lives in South Carolina. Luke is a dental student at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Kailey is in physician assistant school at Butler University. Karlee is 20 and works in Zionsville, Ind.

ALEXTHURSTONBENTONCENTRALAlex Thurston (right) bats for Benton Central High School. He is a junior in 2019 and a verbal commit to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.

MATTTAYLORBENTONCENTRALMatt Taylor (left) catches a ball at first base for Benton Central High School. He has moved on to the baseball team at Anderson University.

PAYTONHALLTAYLORVARNADOALEXTHURSTONMATTTAYLORALEXSTOUTHOOSIERNORTHBenton Central players Payton Hall, Taylor Varnado, Alex Thurston, Matt Taylor and Alex Stout represent Hoosier North in the 2017 Colt Harry Bradway Classic in Lafayette, Ind.

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The Vernon family in Key West, Fla., with spouses and children (from left): Matthew, Emily, Mary Katherine, Mason, Kailey, Karlee, Diann, Aubriel, Jon and Luke.

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Another Benton Central High School baseball signs to play in college (from left): First row — Father David Stout, Benton Central Alex Stout and mother Stephanie Stout. Back row — Bethel College assistant Kiel Boynton, Bethel College head coach Seth Zartman and Benton Central head coach Jon Vernon. (Benton Central Photo)

Kouts’ Tucker wears many hats — coach, teacher, husband, blogger, podcaster, wiffleballer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Tucker wants to make a difference in the lives of kids.

His vehicles are the classroom and the baseball diamond.

Tucker teaches Language Arts and Reading to middle schoolers at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and also serves as head baseball coach. The 2019 season will be his third leading the Kouts Mustangs.

As an educator, Tucker helps students along their path.

“I try to get the kids to be able to handle the real world,” says Tucker. “I tell them, ‘you can be who you want to be.’

“This is the toughest time in history to be a teenager. You can never shut it off.”

Tucker relates to his students and players through his ability to connect.

“I’m a storyteller,” says Tucker. “I get buy-in from the kids through stories, emotion and feelings.

“In coaching and teaching, I am a relationship builder and a communicator. The game is just an opportunity to becoming who we want to become.”

Some refer to that as transformational coaching.

“We’re here to shape the kids through baseball,” says Tucker. “We’re building a culture we are proud of from top the bottom. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tucker does not base his worth in his won-loss record — though he wants his players to experience winning.

“It’s about making an impact with these kids,” says Tucker, who was the fifth person named as baseball coach at Kouts when he took the job (John Hall took over the Mustangs softball program before the 2016 season).

His coaching staff includes two men — Randy Yager and Doug Murray — with little or no baseball background, but that’s not the priority.

“I’m more concerned with bringing in good men,” says Tucker. “True growth comes from the conversations after (players) fail.”

First-year volunteer coach Stefan Roney is a Kouts graduate. He was on the last Mustangs teams to win an IHSAA sectional championship in 2011 (Kouts reigned in the tourney held at Washington Township).

Kouts, a school of about 275 students, is in a Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

The Mustangs belong to the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central (Union Mills), Washington Township and Westville). Boone Grove won the 2018 Class 2A state title.

Tucker played at Calumet High School in Gary, Ind., graduating in 2008. He then went on Chicago State University and pitched four seasons in five years, sitting out the 2011 campaign recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and earning his English degree in December 2013.

His head coaches at Calumet were Larry Drake and Roger Azbill with Michael Caston leading the CSU Cougars Tucker’s first four years and Steve Joslyn his last.

Azbill approach baseball with a blue-collar mentality.

“I learned toughness,” says Tucker of Azbill. “He wanted you to show up everyday and do your job. You wanted to always try to get better.”

Caston was a Hammond, Ind., native who played at Valparaiso University. His pitching coach at Chicago State was former Lake Central High School, Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hurler and Gary SouthShore RailCats player Neal Frendling.

What Tucker remembers most from his college baseball experience is playing teams from every corner of the country and seeing the different styles of playing and coaching.

The year he sat out as a player, Tucker traveled with the team and did laundry. But he also decided his baseball future was in coaching. He came away from each trip with page after page of notes.

Before college, Tucker had played travel baseball for Dave Sutkowski with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Baseball Chiefs) and soaked up much about the game. He later coached with Sutkowski.

“He was very detailed,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “Everything was broken down and position-specific. He was also very competitive.

“We run our stuff (at Kouts) very much like we did with the Chiefs.”

Tucker was the pitching coach for Dave Griffin at Purdue-Calumet for one season before joining Steve Strayer’s coaching staff at Crown Point High School leading up to taking the Kouts job in the winter prior to the 2016 season.

“It was awesome learning from (Griffin),” says Tucker. “He does it a little bit differently. He allows guys to do their own thing. He wants to serve as a guy to help you get where you’re going.”

During games, Tucker would see the wheels turning for Griffin.

“He would call things before they happened,” says Tucker. “He was always thinking ahead.”

Tucker was with Strayer at the time the Bulldogs boss suffered a stroke and marvels at how quickly he bounced back.

“I was so impressed how he could manage so many people,” says Tucker of Strayer. “He was very diligent in his planning.

“He always had that growth mindset. He was always learning and adding to coaching tool kit.”

Strayer was quick to share his faith and to ask the opinions of his assistants, making sure to give them ownership in the program and Tucker takes the same tactic with his staff.

Tucker is also part of the new Wheelhouse Baseball podcast. It is part of the Chicago-based Overtime Sports Network, which promotes its various podcasts and blogs.

With Tucker, best friend and former Chicago State teammate Jeremy Ratjaczyk and avid podcaster and Calumet College of St. Joseph graduate Mikey Kubacki Jr., adding to the chatter, Wheelhouse podcast focuses on historic Major League Baseball games, quirky stats and obscure players.

It’s buddies talking baseball with a sense of humor.

“We’re three goofy guys and we’re quirky,” says Tucker. “We try to be genuine.”

The first episode debuted Oct. 10 and was centered on Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle’s perfect game for the White Sox in 2009.

Episode 2 is to be about the 10 worst contracts in MLB history.

Episode 3 will feature former Hammond Bishop Noll Institute and current minor league pitcher Matt Pobereyko. Episodes generally premier each Wednesday morning.

While his baseball playing days are done, Tucker still competes on the fast pitch wiffleball field. He plays for both the Griffleball League’s GasHouse Gorillas and in the Leroy Wiffle Ball Association.

Griffleball has been around for eight years and has seven teams playing on Sundays at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith. There is no base running. Wherever the ball lands determines the outcome of the at-bat.

Next year, the LWA is to have 14 teams and seven fields. Player do run the bases. If a team issues five balls to the opposing batter, they must lob the next ball in so there’s more offense.

Jim and wife Mysta Tucker have been married for a year and have two dogs.

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Jim Tucker, a 2008 Calumet High School graduate, delivers a pitch for Chicago State University. He played baseball for the Cougars in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013. He is now head baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. (Chicago State Photo)

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Jim Tucker is a teacher and baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. The graduate of Calumet High School and Chicago State University is also a husband, blogger, podcaster and wiffleballer. The 2019 season will be his third as head coach of the Kouts Mustangs.

Mishler brothers always had baseball coaching in their blood

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Get the Mishlers — father Joel and sons Nic and Zac — together and the conversation turns to the same topic.

“It’s always baseball,” says Nic Mishler. “It drives my mom (Kim) and sister (Hannah) nuts when we are at home.

“We grew up in a college baseball dugout. We live baseball. That’s our family.”

Joel Mishler played and coached college baseball and his boys grew up around the game.

When the elder Mishler established JNZ Baseball and Softball Academy in Shipshewana, Ind., after his days at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Nic and Zac were always around.

They were working on their own skills, but they were also helping others. The brothers got to work with future Ball State University players Matt Eppers, Nick Floyd and Caleb Stayton and Northwestern Oklahoma State University lefty slugger Judah Zickafoose when they were youngsters and pick the brain of major league hitting coach and frequent visiting clinician John Mallee and former University of Michigan and current Ball State head coach Rich Maloney at his camps in Ann Arbor, Mich.

After Glen Oaks, Joel Mishler was head coach at Westview High School near Shipshewana and established the Indiana Chargers travel organization. The Chargers now train in Goshen, Ind., and has helped several players move on to college baseball.

Nic Mishler (Class of 2009) and Zac Mishler (Class of 2011) both played at Westview and became college players — Nic at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich., and Zac at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Ill., and then Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

What did the Mishler brothers do after their playing days?

Become baseball coaches, of course.

Nic Mishler, 27, has just begun as pitching coach at Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, Iowa, after five seasons at Valparaiso (Ind.) University. Before that, he was a student assistant for two years at his father’s alma mater, Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz.

Zac Mishler, 25, is heading into his third season as hitting/infield coach and recruiting coordinator at NCAA Division II Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, W.Va. Before landing at ABU, he was at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., where he was in charge of infield play, base running, and recruiting and scheduling.

“I don’t know what else I’d do,” says Zac Mishler of baseball coaching. “I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a little kid.”

Nic Mishler pitched in the Division II Junior College World Series while at Kellogg and appreciates the world of juco baseball.

“To me, what makes junior college so attractive is you are able to recruit very talented players who could use a couple years to get bigger and stronger and develop their craft.

“I want them to know what it means to dogpile. It’s something you never forget. They can work toward a World Series (the 2019 National Junior College Athletic Association D-II Championship is in Enid, Okla.) before moving on to the next level.”

Since junior colleges are two-year institutions and athletes are aiming for four-year schools or the professional ranks, Nic sees the spark in all of them.

“The drive is second to none,” says Nic Mishler. “They’re all fighting for something.

“These are guys who may have been looked over and have a chip on their shoulder.

“I get to help these guys reach their goals. To me, that’s really exciting.”

With this common bond, Nic has witnessed close relationships forming among juco.

“Some of my best friends are from when I was at Kellogg,” says Nic Mishler. “We’re a real close group.”

After working at NCAA Division I Valparaiso, Zac returns to Division II at Alderson Broaddus.

“I really do like D-II baseball,” says Zac Mishler. “There’s a ton of talent and it’s very, very competitive.

“We get a lot of kids who are athletic and just want to chance to play.”

Zac also appreciates that he gets a chance to spend time on teaching and development, passing along the things he’s learned in time as a player and coach.

Jerry Halstead (John A. Logan) and Bobby Pierce (IPFW) were Zac’s head coaches while he was a college player and he coached with Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s before joining the staff of Matt Yurish at ABU.

“(Halstead) taught me a toughness I never knew I had in me,” says Zac Mishler. “(Pierce) taught me more than anybody how to be the same person everyday and how to stay consistent.

“It’s something I try to do in life. He had a big influence on me.”

Yurish has passed along lessons on communication and motivation.

“You get out and meet people and make a good name for yourself,” says Zac Mishler. “And you have to know how how to handle different types of people.

“A common misconception is that everybody needs to be coached the same. You want to tap into each kid and see what makes him tick.

“Coaching is getting people to play at the best of their abilities.”

After playing for Eric Laskovy at Kellogg, Nic and soaked up wisdom from Andy Stankiewicz at Grand Canyon and Brian Schmack at Valpo U. His boss at DMACC is David Pearson.

“(Stankiewicz) gave me my shot at coaching,” says Nic Mishler. “I can’t thank him enough.”

He worked with the Antelopes pitching staff and served as bullpen coach for a team that went to the NCAA Division II World Series. A member of the GCU staff — Nathan Choate — is now an assistant at NCAA Division I Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

One summer, Nic was pitching coach and also worked with infielders and outfielders for the East Texas Pump Jacks in the Texas Collegiate League.

Nic led Valpo catchers and helped Schmack with the pitching staff. He was the catching coach for three-year starter Scott Kapers, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers. Mishler also got to help Trey Ferketic, who found his way from California to pitch in the Midwest for the Crusaders.

“I was in a pretty good situation at Valparaiso,” says Nic Mishler. “They have something good going.

“I have full control over a pitching staff here. This offered me a real good opportunity.”

Pearson — with his NCAA Division I background (he was associate head coach at North Dakota State University) and high energy — also drew Nic.

“I’m a high-energy guy,” says Nic Mishler. “I’m so excited to get to go to work for him everyday.”

Nic and Zac communicate just about everyday by call or text and often speak with their father. Now that Nic is at a junior college, he can recruit Zac’s players and has already had a few conversations.

“It’s cool for me to watch (Zac) chase his dream,” says Nic Mishler. “He works extremely hard. That motivates me to work hard as well.”

DMACC is scheduled to play about a dozen games this fall and was at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., recently for the Prep Baseball Report juco event.

Zac says he was attracted to coaching in because he can work with players throughout the year.

“It’s different mentality (than high school),” says Zac Mishler.

Looking down the line, Zac could see himself as a head coach or an assistant to his big brother.

What if Zac becomes a head coach first?

“(Nic) will be my first call,” says Zac Mishler.

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Nic Mishler, a 2009 Westview High School graduate, is an assistant baseball coach at Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, Iowa.

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Zac Mishler, a 2011 Westview High School graduate, is an assistant baseball coach at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, W.Va.

South Bend’s Milovich has made a life in minor league baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Milovich was introduced to baseball in South Bend, Ind.

Andy played the game at Southeast Little League, South Bend Riley High School (graduating in 1987) and for South Bend American Legion Post 357 and then at Valparaiso University (graduating in 1992).

“I was raised on ball fields,” says Milovich. “It’s an important part of what I do and it’s what gets me up everyday.

“My baseball roots start in South Bend. It has everything to do with where I’m at now.”

He recalls fondly coming home after school and catching the end of the Chicago Cubs game on WGN-TV. The next morning, he devoured the box score and saw highlights on Ray Rayner’s show.

With Myrtle Beach being a High Class-A affiliate of the Cubs (one step up from Low Class-A South Bend), Milovich was beyond thrilled when he received a World Series ring when the big club won it all in 2016.

Back in 1987, Andy played for Post 357 against South Bend Post 50 in the first game at South Bend’s Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (now known at Four Winds Field).

Beginning with an internship with the South Bend White Sox in 1990, Milovich has made a life in the game with 2018 being his 28th year in professional baseball. He is both president and general manager for the Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and president of the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans.

A son of Ron and Judy Milovich and brother to Matt, Brad, Brian and Melanie, Andy learned baseball from his father who began coaching at the Little League level at 18 and continued in adult amateur baseball around South Bend until a few years ago.

Ron Milovich, an optometrist, started a team in the early 1990s featuring local players and some of Andy’s Valpo teammates.

“Dad was always making time for kids and the community,” says Andy. “That’s the way he was raised.”

Andy played at VU for head coach Paul Twenge and at Riley for Ralph “Peanuts” Pienazkiewicz.

Both men instilled in Andy the notion of balancing athletics, academics and personal life and overcoming life’s obstacles through hard work.

“Nothing is given to anybody,” says Milovich. “You have to learn it.

“You take that approach into the business world and you’ll have success.”

As a baseball executive, Milovich has faced the grind of a long season while helping to entertain customers.

“We want to put on a great show and give them a three-hour vacation,” says Milovich. “To use baseball as an opportunity to change communities the way we do is a really rewarding.”

Greenberg Sports Group, founded by Chuck Greenberg, manages minor league baseball franchises in Frisco, Myrtle Beach and State College, Pa. Greenberg is general partner and chief executive officer in Frisco, chairman and managing partner in both Myrtle Beach and State College.

Before joining GSG, Milovich spent 18 years with Palisades Baseball. He has served as assistant general manager and general manager of the Erie (Pa.) SeaWolves, GM of the Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Scrappers, vice president and GM of the West Virginia Power and became president and GM in Myrtle Beach in January 2013.

Milovich says the key to success in Myrtle Beach was “investing in people” and “built on affordability and fun.

“It’s the way we’ll grow it here (in Frisco),” says Milovich, who has turned over the Myrtle Beach GM reins to Ryan Moore.

Milovich went going back and forth between South Carolina and Texas before settling with his wife Cher (the couple met when Andy was working in Mahoning Valley) and daughters Addison (9) and Dylan (7) in Frisco in mid-July.

Frisco, Texas, which has an approximate population of 175,000, has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. It is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (population over 7 million).

The RoughRiders consider north Dallas their primary market and the DFW Metroplex as a whole as their secondary market.

Milovich has been working to get an understanding of the operation and diverse market in Frisco. About half of his staff of 60 or so employees work in ticket sales. Using data, they target the various smaller manageable segments of the market.

“We’re measuring many kinds of groups,” says Milovich.

Frisco and surrounding area is home to many large corporations and there are several other near-by entertainment options, including the Texas Rangers (baseball), Dallas Cowboys (football), Dallas Mavericks (basketball), Dallas Stars (hockey) and FC Dallas (soccer). The RoughRiders are a Double-A affiliate of the Rangers.

Myrtle Beach (with a metropolitan population of around 450,000) is different than Frisco, with its smaller market and staff catering to the needs of both residents and tourists.

The main draw of the area is the beach and the Pelicans are trying to get their share of the entertainment dollar.

Running a minor league team has changed quite a bit since the 1990s.

“It used to be you could have your giveaways and a fireworks show and you could count on the community responding,” says Milovich. “Media consumption is now so fragmented. There are so many entertainment options we didn’t have back then.

“The ability to build promotions that resonate and connect with the masses is a lot tougher.”

To help him grow his network of friends and contacts and to advance the industry, Milovich serves on the steering committees for both the National Sports Forum (scheduled for Feb. 10-12, 2019 in Las Vegas) and Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar (slated for Sept. 24-27, 2018 in Des Moines, Iowa).

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Andy Milovich, a graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Riley High School and Valparaiso (Ind.) University, is in his 28th year of professional baseball. He is president and general manager of the Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and president of the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans. (Myrtle Beach Pelicans Photo)