Tag Archives: Visual learning

Western Michigan’s Piotrowicz gets hitters to develop routines

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

While you’ll only see Adam Piotrowicz donning one cap — usually a brown one with a gold “W” — he essentially wears three.

A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Piotrowicz as associate head coach. He also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon.

Piotrowicz, who played at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., describes his associate head coach duties.

“I help out more with scheduling, budget and things of that nature,” says Piotrowicz. “I have more administrative responsibility.”

Piotrowicz guides the Broncos’ offense. In 2019, WMU hit the most home runs (32) since the BBCOR Bat era in 2010 and posted the second highest batting average (.287) since 2012. The team also scored the most runs per game (6.0) since 2008 and racked up the most stolen bases (50) since 2013.

When the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic brought Western Michigan’s 2020 season to a close after 15 games, the Broncos had belted seven homers with a .261 average, 8.6 runs per contest and 35 stolen bases.

“I’m a big believer in having a great two-strike approach and competing in the box,” says Piotrowicz. “It’s about our daily routine — whatever it is.

“Each guy’s different.”

Some hitters are focused on power and others are looking to get the most out of their speed.

It’s the routine that keeps hitters sane.

“This game will drive guy’s crazy,” says Piotrowicz. “Just focus on the day-to-day process. It gets you over the 0-of-10 slumps and keeps you grounded during the 10-for-10.”

It’s helpful to Piotorowicz to know the style of learning that suits hitters best — Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic — in order to best communicate and assist them with their approach, mechanics etc., while competing at all times.

“We want to be a tough out,” says Piotrowicz. “We want to make other team earn all 27 outs.”

Piotrowicz is also aware that all players do not respond to the same coaching techniques based on their personality. Calling a player out in front of his teammates may not be appropriate for one while another will respond well.

“Our center fielder (Blake Dunn), I can yell at him,” says Piotrowicz of a junior from Saugatuck, Mich., who he expects to go high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. “He was a multi-sport athlete and football player. He needs that. He wants that hard coaching.”

The analogy that Piotrowicz favors is the mail. A package, whether sent first class air mail or standard third class will carry the same message and expectations regardless of delivery method.

Piotrowicz says Western’s recruiting territory is reflective of the 2020 WMU roster which features 19 players with hometowns in Michigan, nine from the Chicago area and three from Indiana high schools — junior Ryan Missal (Lowell), sophomore Bobby Dearing (Lafayette Harrison) and freshman Hayden Berg (Penn). The Broncos have received a commitment from Ryan Watt (Mishawaka).

Piotrowicz says the school has helped by making out-of-state tuition only $2,000 to $3,000 more than for in-state students.

Working with Gernon, Piotrowicz absorbs knowledge someone who has plenty of coaching experience. He was an assistant at Indiana University, helped Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) transition to NCAA Division I as assistant then head coach then was a Michigan State University assistant before his first season in charge in Kalamazoo in 2011.

In 2016, WMU won its first Mid-American Conference tournament. Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate Gernon has 210 victories as Broncos skipper, including 104 in the MAC.

“I couldn’t ask for a more supportive boss,” says Piotrowicz of Gernon. “He’s given me a lot of freedom and responsibility.

“I learn something everyday.”

Prior to Western Michigan, Piotrowicz was an assistant for three seasons (2011-13) at Valparaiso (Ind.) University, where former big leaguer Tracy Woodson was head coach at current Crusaders head coach Brian Schmack was pitching coach.

“(Woodson) gave me a ton of freedom and a lot of trust,” says Piotrowicz, who go to work with hitters, infielders, catchers and outfielders while splitting strength and conditioning with Schmack.

In 2012, Valpo was regular season and tournament champions in the Horizon League and competed in the NCAA Gary Regional, losing to Purdue and Kentucky.

In 2013, the Crusaders won the HL tournament and took part in the Indiana Regional, losing to Indiana and Austin Peay but not before knocking out Florida.

Piotrowicz got his college coaching start with two seasons at NCAA Division III Heidelberg University (2009-10) in Tiffin, Ohio, where they won Ohio Athletic Conference Conference and regular-season titles both seasons. The 2010 team won the Mideast Regional and competed in the D-III World Series in Grand Chute, Wis., beating Johns Hopkins and Wisconsin-Stevens Points and losing to eventual champion Illinois Wesleyan and Linfield.

Though he was a graduate assistant, he worked like a full-time coach and had his perceptions of what a coach is shaped while developing head coach Matt Palm’s Student Princes. He aided hitters and catchers and shared in recruiting.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Matt Palm,” says Piotrowicz.

After a season at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (now Bethel University), Piotorowicz finished his playing days at Manchester.

Recruited to Bethel by Mike Hutcheon, Piotrowicz played one season for Pilots head coach Seth Zartman and assistants Dick Siler and Javier Jimenez.

“(Zartman) was a good guy,” says Piotrowicz. “He was very big on team culture.

“(Siler) was amazing. He was very, very knowledgable guy and a down-to-earth person. He worked with catchers and made sure I was in shape.

“(Jimenez) also brought a ton of knowledge.”

Rick Espeset was and still in head baseball coach and athletic director at Manchester. Given his workload and Espeset’s young family, Piotrowicz and his teammates marveled at how organized he was.

“Practices were always detailed,” says Piotrowicz. “He did a good job of teaching guys how to the win the game.”

Points of emphasis included baserunning, defense and playing the game hard and fast.

“You do that and winning will take care of itself,” says Piotrowicz. “We called (Espeset) the ‘Silent Assassin.’ He was a psychology major with a very dry sense of humor. The mental side of the game, that’s where he was the strongest.”

At Glenn, Piotrowicz played for John Nadolny aka “Nud.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better high school coach,” says Piotrowicz. “He coached us tough. He coached us fair.

“He was hard on you, but you know he had good intentions behind it. He wanted you to be better. Nud was great.”

The Glenn Falcons were 2002 Class 2A Jimtown Sectional champions, losing to Manchester in the Jimtown Regional championship game.

In 2003, Glenn won the sectional and regional at Jimtoiwn then lost to Frankton in the 2A State Semifinals.

The 2004 Falcons had a win-filled regular season then lost to Fairfield in the 2A Jimtown Sectional title game.

Piotrowicz, a catcher, had a backyard neighbor and best friend named Andy Groves.

“I caught him since Little League,” says Piotrowicz. “We had all kinds of fights over pitch selection.”

Right-hander Groves pitched four seasons at Purdue University (2004-07) and two in the Colorado Rockies organization (2007-08).

Adam and Heather Piotrowicz, a former Manchester basketball player, have two sons — Hunter (4) and Elliot (1).

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A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Adam Piotrowicz as associate head coach. The graduate of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon. (Western Michigan University Photo)

 

Purdue Fort Wayne’s Birely helps pitchers navigate a world of knowledge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Blending various talents into a cohesive unit, helping them navigate a world of knowledge and encouraging a flow of ideas.

This is what Grant Birely gets to do as pitching coach at NCAA Division I Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne).

Birely, 36, has been on the job since the 2009 season. The Mastodons are scheduled to open the 2019 campaign Feb. 15-17 with four games at Alabama A&M.

The Purdue Fort Wayne roster features 14 active pitchers with two who will likely be medical redshirts.

“I make an individual plan with each of them to become the best they can,” says Birely. “As they get older and go through the program, they take a lot of ownership of their own development and I become a consultant for them. With the young guys, it’s about teaching them what it takes to pitch at this level.”

Birely says the cornerstone of Mastodons pitching is throwing and learning to spin pitches.

“In some form or fashion, there is throwing each day,” says Birely. “It might be 60 feet one day just to get loose. It might be 350 feet if they’re going to long toss that day. I don’t put a distance restriction on them. We tell them to listen to their arm and see how it feels each day.”

The point is, collegiate pitchers are asked to throw a lot.

“There’s no better way to learn to throw than to throw,” says Birely. “We’re working on their craft every single day.”

Playing baseball at the college level, especially Division I, is a major commitment between school work and hours spend getting ready for and playing games.

“We spend everyday with them and they spend so much time on it, they have to love baseball and showing up everyday and working on it,” says Birely. “One thing they’ll leave with is time management when they head into the real world.”

Purdue Fort Wayne pitchers do a hybrid training program that includes band work, stretching and some weighted-ball movements.

“We don’t dive straight into a full weight-ball program because these guys are competing the minute they get on-campus,” says Birely. “They never really have that down time to solely focus on velocity or anything like that. We’re always trying to work on command (of the strike zone) and commanding a second pitch.”

When the weather keeps the Mastodons off the frozen tundra, they do their throwing in a spacious fieldhouse large enough to make tosses of up to 250 or 260 feet.

“We’re very lucky to have that,” says Birely. “It’s just high enough so they can get a little bit of air under the baseball.”

The top two pitchers from 2018 in terms of innings pitched and victories are gone. Right-hander Brandon Phelps, a Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate, pitched 83 innings and won five games as a redshirt senior. Left-hander Damian Helm worked 73 1/3 innings with four victories in his senior season.

As the Mastodons head into the only four-game series of 2019, Birely says junior right-hander Chase Phelps (Brandon’s brother and also a Fort Wayne Snider graduate), junior right-hander Cameron Boyd (Fishers) and redshirt senior right-hander Shane Odzark will get the first opportunity to be starting pitchers.

The bullpen is being built with establishing strength in the late innings as a priority.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are excited to try to go and finish games,” says Birely, who counts freshman left-hander Justin Miller (Homestead), sophomore right-hander Sean Ferguson (New Haven) and freshman right-hander Jarrett Miller in the closer mix.

Other right-handers include sophomore Trevor Armstrong (Fort Wayne Snider), sophomore Nathan Hefle, freshman Garrett Hill (University), junior Tyler Kissinger, junior Duane Miller, sophomore Brian Skelton (Westfield) and redshirt freshman Cade Willard (Eastside).

Another lefty is sophomore Spencer Strobel (Avon).

Birely says two freshmen right-hander — Grant Johnston (Hamilton Southeastern) and Drew Pyle (Hagerstown) — have had injuries that will likely make them redshirts.

The pitching coach has learned that he is dealing with players who have different ways of learning. They might be visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

“We have some guys who like to see themselves on video and they can make adjustments based off that,” says Birely. “Some guys I have to put in a position kind of in a kinesthetic way so they can feel it.

“It’s definitely a challenge to figure out each guy.”

And figuring it out is key.

“Anyone who is teaching might be the smartest person in the world but if they can’t get that information to the players, it doesn’t really work and it doesn’t help,” says Birely. “It’s been fun finding different ways to teach and different ways to convey information that I have to them.”

Birely notes that the current generation — Generation Z — gets a bad rap for asking so many questions.

“They have all this information at their finger tips,” says Birely. “Some of it is good and some of it is not good.

“I’d rather have them ask me a question or to try to figure something out than to just go and do it on their own.”

Group chats are a way that information is exchanged.

A pitcher will see a video in social media and ask, “what do you think of this, Coach?.”

Birely asks his hurlers to identify their favorite major league pitcher.

“That gives me some insight of who they’re going to watch,” says Birely. “My favorite pitcher to watch growing up was Greg Maddux. I was never the big velocity guy. Watching him throw a baseball looked like watching a wiffleball.”

He also followed the fortunes of another future Hall of Famer. Roy Halladay went to high school just a few years before Birely in nearby Denver suburb of Arvada.

Birley is a graduate of Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo. He played for current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Bobby Pierce at Central Arizona College (the Vaqueros won the 2002 National Junior College Division I World Series) then finished his collegiate career at the University of New Orleans. That’s where he met his future wife, Bonnie. The two were living in the Big Easy when Hurricane Katrina hit and they moved closer to Grant’s family in Denver.

Retired as a player after one season of independent baseball with the Mesa Miners, Birley went into the business world when a friend asked him to help with freshmen tryouts at Regis Jesuit High School, figuring it would just be for a few hours on a Saturday.

“From the moment I walked out there, I was hooked,” says Birely, who spent two seasons at Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo. When Pierce became head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver, he invited Birely to become Roadrunners pitching coach. When Pierce moved to Indiana to lead the IPFW Mastodons, he asked Birely to come with him.

“I wouldn’t have this opportunity without him,” says Birely of Pierce. “He’s been a mentor and a great person to learn from.

“The best thing about him is that he lets everybody in the organization from players to staff go do their job

he gives them the freedom and creativity to make the program better.”

Pierce promotes a spirit of working together for a common goal.

“He’s very positive,” says Birley. “He’s great to work for. He’s awesome to play for. He allows the players the freedom to exchange ideas.

“Let’s figure it out together.”

Grant and Bonnie Birely have figured out how to balance baseball and family life. The couple has two children — Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School senior Tyler (who is active in theater and show choir) and sixth grader Kaylee.

“Like everyday says you’ve got to have a very understand wife,” says Grant. “She’s on this journey with me. Otherwise, I couldn’t do this.

“She keeps the fort going at home.”

Purdue Fort Wayne plays in the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). That makes for a good deal of travel. When the Mastodons go to the Dakotas, they often leave campus on Wednesday night and return at noon Monday.

“(Players) do a great job of doing their schoolwork on the road,” says Birely. “It’s not uncommon to walk through a hotel lobby and there’s 25 or 30 guys doing their homework.

It’s not uncommon for players to ask for the movies to be turned off on the bus to study for an upcoming test.

“We’ve had guys who understand what it means to be a true student-athlete,” says Birely. “It goes back to time management. They have to rely on themselves a lot to make sure they’re getting their work done.”

Coaches will proctor tests for professors, who email the exam and set the time limit and have the coaches sent it back. Other take online classes to allow flexibility and no requirement to be in a classroom.

Christine Kuznar is Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics and meets with players each semester to them on-track toward getting their degree as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“She’s the rock star behind the whole thing,” says Birely.

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Purdue Fort Wayne was formerly known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. In its new branding, the Mastodons have adopted black and gold as school colors with a hint of blue as homage to the IPFW brand. (Purdue Fort Wayne Image)

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Grant Birely, the baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, is a native of Colorado who played and coached for Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce before following him to Indiana. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

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Grant Birely has been baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) since the 2009 season. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

 

 

Haley sees importance of building culture, knowing how players learn

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Every head coach or manager has to find a coaching style and a way he is going to run his baseball team.

Mark Haley, who coached and managed in professional baseball for more than two decades including 10 years as manager of the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks (2005-14), shared his ideas on team management at the monthly meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Four Winds Field.

Haley, who has talked about the presentation with friend and San Diego Padres manager Andy Green, emphasized the importance of building relationships and communicating with young athletes.

It is helpful to know the background of players.

What’s their family life like?.

What makes a kid the way he is?.

Because of the commitment of money and time, this is critical in professional baseball.

“It’s surprising how mentally fragile and insecure some of the best big leaguers are,” said Haley.

There are many differences in any given locker room.

These include cultural, social, economic, religious and in motor development.

“It’s a melting pot,” said Haley. “We (as coaches) have to dig deep. Give everything to your players and expect nothing in return.

“We’re here to help them. We’re here to develop.”

Haley outlined three primary learning styles (ways of processing information) — Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic.

Once the coach sees how an individual learns, he can find ways to get a message across the way that player will best receive it. The coach’s way is not always the only way.

“We pass judgement on kids because it’s not how we learn,” said Haley.

From working with him in the Chicago White Sox system, Haley knows that Hall of Famer Frank Thomas was a visual learner.

“He’s got to see it,” said Haley of The Big Hurt.

Visual learners want to see a picture and video. They notice things around them. They want information in writing.

A tip for this kind of learner is to use video to exaggerate the area that’s being worked on. Video can be used to anchor something visual and fix it in the player’s mind.

Auditory learners tend to use their voice and their ears. They remember what they hear and say. They want to know the “Why.”

They want no outside distractions.

Instructors need to repeat the information in “their words.”

It is also helpful to give the same instruction but in a different context.

Coaches are encouraged to make these auditory learners talk about the subject with a teammate.

Former White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko was auditory.

“You have to talk his language,” said Haley, noting that Konerko would use lingo that would have most running for a kinesiology book.

Aaron Rowand, a former White Sox outfielder, was kinesthetic. He learned by doing.

“He just wants to do drills,” said Haley.

Kinesthetic learners want to move, touch, create and physically interact.

They will be facially expressive and move around when they are interacting.

They want to know “How” to do something.

“They are the workers,” said Haley of kinesthetic learners. “They are the cage rats.”

With this kind of learner, coaches are advised to go over the area they are teaching with a step-by-step approach.

Haley talked about building a team culture. He defined it as “the formal or informal organizational systems the coach establishes to move the team towards its goal.”

Part of building a productive locker room is having a common goal.

“We have to have a commitment,” said Haley.

Roles include starter, key backup player or reserve/role player.

“Know your role and perform it well,” said Haley. “Clearly understand your role for team success.”

Players should understand complimentary roles.

“It gives them direction so they’ll know exactly where they’re at,” said Haley. “Never evaluate another kid to a player. You’re just creating animosity. Don’t humiliate them by saying ‘you’re not as good as him.’”

Haley accentuated the fact that it’s a performance culture that’s being built.

“Everything is done on how well we do, how well you coach etc.,” said Haley. “Feedback about performance has to be clear.

“It’s got to be productive. Don’t let them float off. Maintain communication.”

It’s important to find inspirational leadership.

Not a believer in naming team captains, Haley said the leader will naturally emerge.

If that leader is also bringing the team down with their attitude, Haley said the coach needs to override them or, perhaps, find another leader.

At the pro level, leaders who are negative need to be weeded out.

Haley wants to build an empowering climate where every player has a say in the fortunes and direction of the team.

There should be a compelling vision.

“We as coaches can keep that to ourselves,” said Haley. “Let the vision be known. Kids like that.”

Haley also believes in shared values. His are Honesty, Trust and Respect.

“Those are the three I preach,” said Haley. “You need to do that non-stop.”

Goal orientation is also a part of the plan.

“We’ve got to accomplish this as a team,” said Haley.

A “Can Do” attitude is a must.

“It radiates through the dugout and the locker room,” said Haley. “Young kids battle the fear of failure. As a coach, I’m never going to do that. Never be afraid to fail.”

For Haley, it’s about baseball development. But it’s also about making better people. That goal needs to be remembered.

Haley said coaches should take advantage of innovation that is constantly being developed in baseball.

“Find new ways of doing things,” said Haley, noting all the new metrics and devices available to coaches these days.

“Kids want instant feedback on everything,” said Haley. “We have to adapt to them. They are not going to adapt to us. We can influence them.”

Haley identifies three types of players on a team. There’s those who are seeking to get to the next level (No. 1’s). There are those who are satisfied with where they’re at (No. 2’s). Lastly, there are the players who are not even sure they want to be there (No. 3’s).

Haley, who is director of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and a South Bend Cubs travel baseball coach, will see the No. 1’s all the time at the Performance Center. The No. 2’s come less often. The No. 3’s are a rare sight.

Having a team of 1’s and 3’s is a recipe for major conflict.

Haley said there are areas that help create cultural identity on a team. Besides common values, symbols will help build the cohesiveness and he likes to see these originate with the players.

Common heroes can also bring teammates together. Maybe they all root for the same big leaguer. That’s something else they have in common.

Rituals — chants, team meals, championship belts — also tell players they are a part of a group.

Coaches should show an interest in each athlete’s achievements and show pride in the team’s accomplishments.

With all of it, there has to be consistency.

“You have to practice it all religiously,” said Haley. “Good coaches don’t just talk. Everything that comes out of their mouth is for a reason.”

Haley said there is no absolute one right way to coach and finding a coaching style comes through trial and error.

Having a mentor helps. Haley’s was Jim Snyder, who spent a lifetime in the game including stints as a coordinator of instruction in the White Sox organization.

The final Cubbies Coaches Club meeting of the off-season is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5. For more information, call (574) 404-3636 or email performancecenter@southbendcubs.com.

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Mark Haley, director of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and a South Bend Cubs travel baseball coach, talked at the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club meeting Tuesday, Feb. 5 about team management. (Steve Krah Photo)