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Peterson in Guardians system after special run with UConn

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

University of Connecticut baseball enjoyed one of the best seasons in the program’s 126-year history in 2022 and a player from northwest Indiana played a major part.
Austin Peterson, a right-handed pitcher and 2018 Chesterton (Ind.) High School graduate, was a dominant force in the Huskies starting rotation as UConn won a New England record 50 games and went to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year and eighth time on head coach Jim Penders’ watch.
Peterson, a 6-foot-6, 234-pounder, made 18 mound appearances (17 starts) and went 11-3 with a 3.83 earned run average, 147 strikeouts and 25 walks over 110 1/3 innings.
Before he was taken in the ninth round of the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Guardians, many accolades came Peterson’s way.
He was chosen as an All-American by National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (first team), Collegiate Baseball (second team), American Baseball Coaches Association (third team) and D1Baseball.com (third team).
Peterson was also New England Pitcher of the Year, NCBWA District 2 co-Pitcher of the Year, East Coast Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year as well as all-Big East Conference (first team), all-New England (first team) and all-Big East tournament.
The tall righty also set a UConn single-season record for strikeouts and tied for second in single-season wins. He went six or more innings in 14 of 17 starts.
Peterson was a team captain for a UConn team that finished 50-16 and bowed out in the NCAA Super Regional at Stanford.
“It meant a lot, especially going to a historic baseball program like UConn” says Peterson of the leadership role voted upon by his teammates. “Being a leader of that culture is something I’ll never forget. I was a guy from the Midwest and was welcomed with open arms.
“I gained a lot of respect out there.”
Since 2004 — Penders’ first season as head coach — 65 Huskies have signed pro contracts with MLB teams and Peterson is part of that group.
Joshua McDonald is Huskies pitching coach.
“Coach Mac teaches you the mental side of baseball a little bit better than a lot of guys,” says Peterson. “He helps you find something you’re good at and make the most out of that.
“I had to get my slider back. We worked together to figure what was going on. It came back this year and the strikeout numbers took a jump.”
In 2021, Peterson was all-Big East (second team) and in 15 games (14 starts) went 7-1 with a 2.58 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 21 walks over 80 1/3 innings.
Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, Peterson uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curve.
This past spring, the four-seamer sat at 90 to 93 mph and touched 94.
The two-seamer “has a little big of late life to it,” says Peterson. “I like to throw it toward a lefty’s front hit and it runs back inside for a strike. It runs and sinks more than it cuts.”
The change-up is of the “circle” variety. The curve has a sweeping motion and is like 1-to-7 on the clock face.
Peterson landed in Storrs, Conn., after playing at Wabash Valley College (a junior college in Mount Carmel, Ill.) in 2020 at Purdue University in 2019.
He went the JUCO route because he would immediately become eligible for the MLB Draft and at the time transferring from one NCAA D-I school to another meant sitting out for a year.
“I just wanted to compete,” says Peterson.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped cut the 2020 season short and the draft was cut to five rounds and Peterson was not selected.
At Wabash Valley, Rob Fournier was then the Warriors head coach. Peterson worked closely with then-pitching coach Aaron Biddle (who is now WVC head coach).
“Both were fiery guys,” says Peterson of Fournier (now an assistant/recruiting coordinator at Western Kentucky University) and Biddle. Coach Fournier hated losing more than anybody I’ve ever seen in my life.
“The competitiveness they brought to the table helped me in my competitiveness.”
Peterson got into 25 games (25 in relief) as a Purdue freshman and went 1-5 with one save, a 4.50 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 11 walks in 2019.
At Wabash Valley, he got into five games (three starts) and went 2-0 with a 3.05 ERA, 29 strikeouts and seven walks in 20 2/3 innings.
Born in Valparaiso, Ind., Peterson grew up in Chesterton. He got his organized baseball start at State Park Little League. His first travel team was the Duneland Flyers at 13U. Then came one season with Chicago’s Coyote Select then three (15U to 17U) with the Indiana Prospects. The 2017 Ed Woolwine-coached 17U Prospects won the Marucci World Series with the help of Peterson.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Campbell led Peterson and his Chesterton Trojans teammates for Peterson’s last three prep seasons.
“Coach Campbell and I had a great relationship,” says Peterson. “We didn’t have the most talented group, but we played together our whole lives. Coach Campbell realized that and let us take it on our own.”
With Peterson on the team, Chesterton won sectional titles in 2016 and 2018, a Duneland Athletic Conference crown in 2017 and a regional championship in 2018.
Peterson was a two-time DAC Pitcher of the Year and three-time all-DAC, all-area and team MVP. He struck out 277 and posted an 0.80 ERA during his high school mound career.
He was named Region Player of the Year in 2016 and Chesterton Male Athlete of the Year in 2018.
On the basketball court, power forward/center Peterson was a two-time all-conference, all-area and team MVP honoree as a junior and senior. The Marc Urban-coached Trojans went 16-9 on the hardwood in 2016-17 and 21-4 in 2017-18.
While rehabbing a knee injury, Peterson did not play baseball and attended classes at Purdue during the summer of 2018.
The next two summers, he was with the 2019 New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Martha’s Vineyard Sharks and 2020 Coastal Plain League’s Peninsula Pilots (Virginia Beach, Va.).
Peterson used the 2021 season as developmental time, getting his body right and working with UConn athletic trainer Joel DeMarco.
Peterson earned an Applied and Resource Economics at Connecticut in the spring.
Since signing with the Guardians July 30, Peterson has been in Goodyear, Ariz., building back up after not pitching since mid-June.
He expects to begin pitching in games during instructional league at Goodyear Ballpark in mid-September then come back to Indiana in October and see what the Guardians have in-mind for him for November and December.
Glenn and Audra Peterson have three sons — Glenn (31), Jordan (29) and Austin (22).
The elder Glenn played baseball at Chesterton High and recently retired after three decades as a UPS driver. Audra Peterson is director of career and technical education for Porter County.
The younger Glenn Peterson played baseball at Chesterton and walked on at Purdue before giving in up while pursuing at Civil Engineering degree. He works in that field in Munster.
Jordan Peterson played baseball in high school and a Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and is now a financial consultant in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Austin Peterson (University of Connecticut Photo)
Austin Peterson (University of Connecticut Photo)
Austin Peterson (University of Connecticut Photo)

Austin Peterson (University of Connecticut Photo)

Austin Peterson (Cleveland Guardians Photo)

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)