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Podkul’s path takes him to Yinzer Baseball Confederacy

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

Frank Podkul’s baseball journey has taken him to many places in North America.
The trek began in northwest Indiana. Podkul’s first organized experience came at Schererville Little League. That was followed by a Lake Central travel team, Northwest Indiana Shockers (coached by John Mallee), Indiana Playermakers (coached by Dave Griffin), Hammond Seminoles (coached by Ryan Pishkur, Tyler Oche and Matt Pobereyko), Hammond Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
Podkul graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., in 2014. He helped the 59ers (steered by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur) win an IHSAA Class 3A state title that year.
Younger brother Nick Podkul played up on most of Frank’s teams, including Andrean. Nick went on to Notre Dame and is now with Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
“We talk just about everyday,” says Frank. “We’e really close.”
Frank and Nick grew up in a neighborhood with kids who played many different sports — football, basketball, baseball, tennis etc.
“When you build that culture growing up you get a better appreciation for everything,” says Podkul, who turned 26 June 3. “:earn to be an athlete first. Everything else falls into place after that.
“It hurt when people want to specialize early. Let kids be kids.”
After he thought he might be a pitcher in college since he didn’t swing a potent bat in high school, Podkul played four seasons in the infield for Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18).
“He’s just the best,” says Podkul of Marshall. “He would do anything for any of his players — no matter what. The way he’s built that program over the years it is one big family.
“On the baseball side of it, he let guys be themselves and got the best out of everybody.”
A corner infielder for the Grizzlies (mostly third base his last two years), Podkul appeared in 132 games and hit .290 (134-of-462) with 29 home runs, 25 doubles, 122 runs batted in, 109 runs and a .946 OPS (.414 on-base percentage plus .532 slugging average).
In 2018, Podkul hit .327 (53-of-162) with 16 homers, 10 doubles, 57 RBIs, 52 runs and a 1.129 OPS (.444/.685) while Franklin went 39-5 and ending the season at the NCAA Division III Central Regional.
“We had a ridiculous lineup,” says Podkul. “The amount of times we scored four or five runs in the first inning was almost comical.”
With baseball workouts and games, classes and his duties as a student athletic trainer, Podkul felt like a two-sport athlete as a senior. In the fall, he would awake at 5 a.m. for soccer practice, followed by classes, baseball practice and weightlifting then football practice and staying on top of his homework.
“At Franklin you have to be a good student,” says Podkul. “There’s no gimme classes.
“Everything is challenging.”
In his first two college summers, Podkul played for the Midwest Irish in 2015 and in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Collegiate Baseball League in 2016.
Podkul got a kickstart to his senior season at Franklin by spending the summer of 2017 with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks of the Western Canadian Baseball League.
“It was amazing,” says Podkul. “There’s really good competition in that league. Learning some stuff from those guys helped me in my senior year.”
One of his fond memories is playing a game in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is 890 kilometers (428 miles) north of Medicine Hat and seeing the sun out at 1 a.m.
After graduating from Franklin as an Athletic Training major with minors in Exercise Science and Coaching, Podkul went through some workouts in the independent pro Frontier League. Nothing came of those and he went to the California Winter League where he landed a spot with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers in 2019.
In the fall of that year, Podkul contacted Joe Torre (not that Joe Torre) of Torre Baseball Training LLC in Ridgewood, N.J. He runs an independent ball spring training camp in Palm Beach, Fla.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and much of baseball was shut down, a four-team league — the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy — was established with all games played in Washington, Pa., run by Torre and Washington Wild Things president/general manager Tony Buccilli.
Podkul split his time between the Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox. The Frontier League put in the two other teams — the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin Sammies.
The YBC is back for 2021 with the Road Warrior Black Sox, Baseball Brilliance Sox, Killer Bees and Wolfpack. Players are not paid. They are reimbursed clubhouse attendant dues if they are picked up by another league.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Podkul is with the Carson McCurdy-managed Black Sox — playing corner infielder and occasionally in the outfield. Through 32 games, he was hitting .284 (27-of-95) with five homers, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and a .981 OPS (.433/.547).
The Yinzer league provides the opportunity for players to stay sharp and build up their numbers while looking to catch on in independent leagues. Rosters are set a month at a time.
“It’s real games,” says Podkul, who plays daily — either afternoon or night — at Wild Things Park. “It’s not a showcase.
“You’ve got to play and get in front of (coaches and scouts). You go where you’re going to be a good fit.”
Since January, about 60 Yinzer league players have moved to other clubs.

Frank Podkul with Andrean High School.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks.
Frank Podkul with the Road Warrior Black Sox of the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy.

Culture of caring, accountability propels NAIA World Series-bound Indiana Tech

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana Tech’s baseball team has gotten strong pitching, timely hitting, well-placed bunts and taken plenty of extra bases during its 2019 postseason run.

The Warriors (41-14-1) have outscored opponents 30-16 in the Wolverine-Hoosier Conference tournament and 24-12 in the NAIA Opening Round.

Head coach Kip McWilliams says it’s team culture that has Tech in the program’s seventh NAIA World Series appearance and first since 2003. The squad was to leave for Lewiston, Idaho today (May 21) and face Bellevue (Neb.) at 11:30 a.m. EDT Friday (May 24).

“These guys care about each other and hold each other accountable,” says McWilliams. “Culture is the most important thing.

“It starts with the seniors. It’s a great group of guys. They’ve helped molding our freshmen and underclassmen.”

Catcher Glen McClain, third baseman Brandon Dossen, second baseman Javier Castaneda, right-handed pitcher Nate McBroom are among the Warriors’ senior leaders.

McClain, a redshirt senior and graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School, is Tech’s all-time hit leader with 337. He goes to Idaho hitting .431 with 17 home runs and 54 runs batted in.

Heritage High School graduate Dossen carries a .370 average with five homers and 49 RBIs.

Castaneda hails from Miami, Fla., has made 70 assists and participated in 11 double plays on defense.

Wichita, Kan., product McBroom is in the mix to start of relieve in Lewiston. He is 6-3 with a 3.58 earned run average. Tech’s other top pitchers include redshirt junior right-hander Seth Sorenson (9-1, 2.22), junior left-hander Charles Dunavan (9-3, 2.60) and freshman right-hander Hayes Sturtsman (4-1, 5.47).

Sorenson is from Payson, Utah, Dunavan from Sterling Heights, Mich., and Sturtsman is a Manchester High School graduate.

During the run up to the World Series, the lineup has featured junior right fielder Jacob Alvidrez (.315-3-30) at lead-off, followed by junior center fielder Reese Olden (.323-0-28), catcher McClain, third baseman Dossen, freshman first baseman Jake DeFries (.368-3-42), junior designated hitter Spenser McGhee (.338-3-17), second baseman Castaneda, redshirt junior shortstop Jake Ritson (.299-0-30) and junior left fielder Jashaun Simon (.209-1-11).

Alvidrez is from Sacramento, Calif., Olden from New Haven, Ind., DeFries from Crown Point, Ind., McGhee from Virginia Beach, Va., Ritson from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Simon from Kennewick, Wash. Kennewick is less than three hours from Lewiston.

McWilliams, who is in his 12th season at the Fort Wayne school, credits his assistant coaches who take the time to work with the athletes and build trust in the player/coach relationship.

Brent Alwine is in charge of infielders and is key to the Warriors’ defensive positioning.

Pat Collins-Bride works with hitters and helps with recruiting.

Marshall Oetting is the pitching coach and works closely with McWilliams on that aspect of the game.

Miguel Tucker leads the outfielders, helps with recruiting and puts together a scouting report for the rest of the coaching staff. McWilliams says the data helps with positioning and pitch calling and sequencing.

Gordon Turner also helps with infielders and recruiting and is the junior varsity coach.

Tech was one win away from getting back to the World Series in each of the past three seasons, but bowed out in the NAIA Opening Round.

The Warriors have used that as motivation for getting to the next level.

McWilliams, who has long used visualization in his training, has asked players to “close their eyes and remember the last game they played.”

Unless the season ended with a championship, they are know about the heartache of the last-game loss.

“When postseason baseball comes around, there’s only going to be one winner,” says McWilliams. “Even the incoming freshmen can take that feeling and feed off it, using it in their workouts.”

The coach also asks them to go back to their earliest days of baseball.

“Everyone was a star in Little League,” says McWilliams. “Just relax, go out there and have fun.”

It’s all about positivity.

“We have a question for them: What are they feeding their dog?,” says McWilliams. “Is it positive or negative?”

McWilliams was on the Marian University coaching staff the last time Tech made it to Lewiston, but he does maintain contact with former players.

“I’ve received several phone calls and texts,” says McWilliams. “I want them to know they are not forgotten.

“They’re the foundation of where we are today.”

McWilliams has brought in Ivy Tech Northeast head coach Lance Hershberger (who took the Warriors to the World Series in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003), former Indiana Tech athletic director Dan Kline and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and current Grand Valley State University assistant Sam Riggleman to address the 2019 team.

Riggleman was a head coach for 40 years and won 1,023 games at Wesley College, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Southern Illinois University, Bethel College, Dallas Baptist and Spring Arbor University.

As motivation, there’s also the images in McWilliams’ office.

Each time the Warriors has been fortunate enough to win a championship of some kind, a team photo has been taken.

“The poses are almost always the same,” says McWilliams. “They see (those photos) everyday. It’s hilarious. That’s a visual thing for them.”

It links everything together and helps feed the culture.

And culture is what it’s all about for the Indiana Tech Warriors.

 

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Javier Castanedia and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Glen McClain and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Head coach Kip McWilliams and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Javier Castaneda and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)