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U. of Evansville’s Carroll combines ‘old’ and ‘new’ schools in role as head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

College baseball is about more that what goes on between the lines.

Wes Carroll has come to see that in his time as head coach at his alma mater — the University of Evansville.

Self-described as a combination of “old school” and “new school,” Carroll has taken approaches that he was taught when he was a Purple Aces player and concepts he has learned on the job and applies them as he enters his 10th season as the man in charge of the program.

Carroll, who was born in Evansville and graduated from Castle High School, played at UE for Jim Brownlee.

“He was as hard-nosed as you can get,” says Carroll. “He taught us how to be a man and handle our failures.”

It’s inevitable that players will face difficulty — on the diamond or off — and they need to know how to cope. But it’s not always easy.

“Kids fail so much and struggle to overcome,” says Carroll. “I build a relationship with them so that they can feel comfortable with discussing with anything and everything that comes into their life.

“I’m learning from all of my mistakes. I’m 38 years old, but I feel like I’ve been through a lot. The biggest thing is listening.

Being an “elite communicator” is key.

“I want to be there to help get through whatever situation they are going through,” says Carroll. “It is very rewarding. I thought (coaching) was all about wins and losses. When I started, I led the country in pep talks and sac bunts and was a train wreck. It’s about developing great young men. I’ve definitely shifted my focus on what this game is all about.”

Carroll played at Evansville from 1998-2001 and was selected in the 37th round of the 2001 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Wes played mostly second base, shortstop and third base in the Phillies and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals systems through 2005, making it to Triple-A the last two seasons.

When his pro career ended, the 2001 UE graduate planned to be a stock broker but the opportunity to coach presented it and he jumped at the chance. He served two seasons as a UE assistant to David Seifert before taking over as head coach for the 2009 season.

“I was fortunate to jump on to a coaching staff in my hometown,” says Carroll. “I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be in the right place at the right time.

“You could look at it as luck or opportunity matched up with preparation that has put me in this position.”

Observing his older brother (Jamey Carroll was a Purple Ace 1994-96 and logged 12 seasons in the big leagues) and his own years in the minors was part of the education for Wes.

“Professional baseball taught me a lot,” says Carroll. “I learned a lot of what not to do. That is key in anything you do in life.

“I like to simplify things.”

Carroll, who is 251-264 for his UE career, tries to keep it simple when talking hitting, fielding or pitching with his Aces. The 2014 team won 34 games and the Missouri Valley Conference title. In 2015, Kevin Kaczmarski (.465) led the nation in hitting and was the school’s first MVC Joe Carter Player of the Year.

The MVC attracts many pro scouts, who tend to find many top-notch pitchers. The conference gains exposure coast-to-coast on the ESPN3 web-based platform.

As the Aces prepare for 2018, Carroll and assistants Cody Fick, Jake Mahon and Boomer Synek — all three former UE players — are working with a roster made up mostly of Midwest players.

“As a private school with the type of job placement and graduation rates we have here, it opens doors for national recruiting,” says Carroll, who does have players from Texas, Colorado and Ontario. “But I like to stay as local as possible. Maybe a 60-mile radius (from Evansville).”

Working with the NCAA Division I baseball scholarship limit of 11.7, Carroll does not believe in over-recruiting and tends to carry no more than 33 players.

“We have a very small roster,” says Carroll. “We do not redshirt. Our admissions statement says we graduate students in four years. I’m not in the business of cutting people out of my program.

“Our word means a lot and it needs to be a two-way street. We try to form a family culture. Everyone on my roster is going to help me win a ballgame in some way, shape or form.”

Carroll wants players who fill the program’s needs and athletes who see what their probable place in the big picture.

For instance, if there are three upperclassmen at their position, they know it’s unlikely they see the field right away unless they really excel.

“Kids need to find the right fit for them,” says Carroll. “It’s on the families themselves to research. Where am I going to get a chance to develop in games?

“Our scholarship offer shows what kind of impact player I think you’re going to be.”

Pitchers demand a little more scholarship money than other players.

“They are the hot commodity,” says Carroll. “Then you look up the middle (catcher, shortstop, center fielder). “What we want is to have athletes on the baseball field. I want them to be as versatile as can be (on defense and offense). They can handle the bat, run bases and have instincts in the game of baseball.”

Carroll does not select captains.

“We’ve leaned on upperclassmen quite a bit,” says Carroll. “Going into (2018), we have great leaders in the sophomore class. Leaders emerge with how talented they are and hold other guys accountable. Those guys emerge throughout the course of the year. You can’t anoint a certain person. They just rise to the top, no matter what class they are in.”

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Wes Carroll, a 2001 University of Evansville graduate, is entering his 10th season as head coach at his alma mater in 2018. (University of Evansville Photo)

 

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Servant leadership top priority for Bremen’s Gerard

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Being able to field, pitch and hit is essential.

But second-year Bremen High School head baseball coach Chad Gerard places leadership above those diamond skills.

“Teaching leadership to me is just as important as baseball,” says Gerard, who served two seasons as an assistant to Bo Hundt before taking over the Lions program for 2017. “It’s servant leadership. The the theory beyond that is that leaders are put in that position to make other people better.”

Taking a cue from former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, Gerard and his staff — former Mishawaka assistant Jim Morris and Bremen graduates Ryan Carpenter and Greg Williams — look to “build leaders that build leaders.”

Beyond baseball, Gerard sees his players as future fathers, husbands, employers and employees and wants them to lead in those capacities.

“That’s what is most important to me,” says Gerard, who has been married to Amanda for nine years and they have a daughter — Kaitlyn (6).

Between the lines, 1998 Mishawaka High School graduate Gerard puts an emphasis on pitching and defense.

Being a “huge Cubs fan,” Gerard enjoyed Chicago beating the Washington Nationals 9-8 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

But when coaching, a pitchers’ duel is more his speed.

“I like to win ball games based on preventing the other team from scoring runs as opposed to a slugfest,” says Gerard.

That may stem from his playing days, when he was a catcher for coach Gregg Minegar at Mishawaka and then Glenn Johnson at Grace College.

“At the college level, you play doubleheaders every time out,” says Gerard. “Catchers don’t want to be out there for a big inning.”

Big is the task that Bremen faces as the only IHSAA Class 2A school in the 13-team Northern Indiana Conference (which also includes Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley in 4A and Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in 3A).

“That certainly is a challenge,” says Gerard, noting the number of athletes who participate at the bigger schools. “But we’ve gone into the tournament extremely prepared the last two years. Day in and day out, we’re playing quality opponents. There’s no fear coming from these kids.”

The NIC is divided into two divisions — Bremen, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend Riley in the South and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in the North. Each team plays the other once in conference play and there are titles for overall and games won within the division.

The Lions’ non-conference schedule includes Bethany Christian, Culver Academy, Elkhart Christian, Elkhart Memorial, Knox, LaVille, Tippecanoe Valley, Rochester, South Central and Triton.

Bremen won the Northern State Conference (which featured Culver, Jimtown, John Glenn, Knox, LaVille, New Prairie and Triton) in 2015 before that league disbanded.

At 2018 sectional time, Bremen is grouped with 2A schools Central Noble, Eastside, LaVille, Prairie Heights and Westview.

The Lions won the 2016 Westview Sectional and lost to eventual winner Eastside in the semifinals of the 2017 Westview Sectional.

Gerard coached in the Harris Township Junior Baseball Softball Association for three summers before spending 10 years as an assistant Mishawaka head coach John Huemmer then heading to Bremen. He has long kept track of pitches for his own hurlers and the opposing team. At any point in the game, he knows the pitch count for all.

With that in mind, he encourages his batters to work the count and get the opponent’s pitch count up.

He favors keeping track, but says the pitch count rule adopted by the IHSAA for 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) “has room for improvement.”

“It’s got it’s ups and downs,” says Gerard. “It’s great for the kids’ arm health. But they threw a monkey wrench in it when they added another day (of rest) once you hit 100 pitches.”

The old rule allowed a pitch to go 10 innings every three days.

“I remember when you could look in the newspaper and see who pitched and how many innings they have available,” says Gerard.

Hitting the 100-pitch plateau now means a required four days of rest, which really comes into play with a compacted sectional schedule.

“That forces some decision making (on when and how much to use a pitcher),” says Gerard.

Another sticking point is the enforcement of the new rule. Teams are now supposed to self-report and give their pitch count totals to their athletic directors and led AD’s communicate with one another.

It’s a matter of accountability.

“The umpire doesn’t keep track. It’s not his job,” says Gerard. “Who am I supposed to tell (if there’s a violation)?

“I caught two guys over the maximum number (120).”

The penalty for going over the limit is a team forfeit and Gerard says that did happen around the state last spring.

If Gerard got his way, he would also see baseball participation numbers go up across the board. He laments the shrinking of youth leagues.

“Little League is dying,” says Gerard. “Travel ball numbers are growing. A lot of kids are being left out. They are getting cut (from travel ball). I’m not sure how to do it, but we need get more kids playing baseball.”

Gerard notes that it depends on the number of baseball players in a given class whether Bremen will field a junior varsity team. Two years ago, the Lions had 11 seniors. Last year, Bremen did not have a JV team. He says he expects there will be enough freshmen this year to have one.

Bremen has one diamond. It is located a few blocks southwest of the Marshall County school’s campus.

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Chad Gerard, a 1998 Mishawaka High School graduate, is entering his second season as head baseball coach at Bremen High School in 2018. He was Mishawaka assistant for 10 seasons and Bremen assistant for two before taking over the Lions program.

Big leaguer Gibson has not forgotten his Greenfield roots

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Gibson now wears the colors of the Minnesota Twins and spends his off-seasons near the team’s spring training camp in Fort Myers, Fla. But the 6-foot-6 right-hander takes a piece of Greenfield, Indiana wherever he goes.

Gibson grew up in the Hancock County town located east of Indianapolis and learned lessons about baseball and life that he still carries as a fifth-year major leaguer.

Harold Gibson, Kyle’s father, was part of a group that started the Indiana Bandits travel team in 1996.

“That was at the beginning of when travel baseball took off in central Indiana,” says Kyle Gibson, who went from a small, skinny kid to a starter in the Twins rotation. He is coming off a win Friday, Sept. 22 at Detroit. “I am where I am today thanks to that group of guys starting that for us.”

Flashing back, Kyle spent three high school summers at IMG Academy in Florida after enduring his first pitching arm operation at 15.

“I’m a big believer that God puts me in certain situations for a reason,” says Gibson of a procedure to repair a fractured growth plate. “I came out of that surgery my freshmen year following Christ as a much as ever.”

Kyle spent his freshmen season at Indianapolis Cathedral High School, coached by Rich Andriole (who recently was named head coach at Guerin Catholic High School), and the last three years of high school baseball at Greenfield-Central, where C.J. Glander was head coach and Harold Gibson — who pitched for the Cougars then one year at the junior college level — was a volunteer.

Kyle and Glander arrived at GC at the same time and by Gibson’s junior and senior seasons, the program was turned in a positive direction with the head coach’s attention to detail.

“He was really, really good at pushing guys he knew wanted to play in college,” says Gibson, who was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series MVP in Terre Haute in 2006. “He was also good with the guy who’s senior year was going to be their last playing baseball.

“He made sure to make it fun.”

More mature — physically, mentally and spiritually — than when he had his first surgery, there was a “Tommy John” ligament replacement for Kyle near the end of his second professional season (2011).

After three seasons at the University of Missouri, Gibson was selected in the first round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Twins and he made his MLB debut for Minnesota at Target Field in Minneapolis on June 29, 2013, against Kansas City, surrendering two runs on eight hits in six innings pitched with no walks and five strikeouts, earning the win. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the win and five strikeouts made him just the third Twin to win their big league debut while striking out five-or-more batters, the others being Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven in 1970 at RFK Stadium against Washington and Darrell Jackson in 1978 at Metropolitan Stadium against Detroit; they each had seven strikeouts.

Among those in the crowd that day were parents Harold and Sharon and current Greenfield-Central head baseball coach Robbie Miller (an assistant when Kyle was a Cougar). Kyle and Harold still have an impact on baseball in Greenfield as co-owners of a training facility at I-70 and S.R. 9 that caters to ages 8 and up.

At Mizzou, Kyle gained baseball knowledge from pitching coach Tony Vitello while also meeting his future wife, St. Louis area native Elizabeth.

“(Vitello) had a big hand in developing me as a player — physically and mentally,” says Gibson. “I still tap into all that information that they taught us (at Missouri).”

As MU’s pitching coach from 2004-10, Vitello helped develop 15 Mizzou pitchers who were drafted by major league teams, including current Washington Nationals star Max Scherzer, as well as first-round picks Gibson and Aaron Crow.

Kyle sent a text of congratulations to Vitello when he recently was named head coach at the University of Tennessee.

Kyle and Elizabeth Gibson have two children — daughter Hayden (3 1/2) and son Mills (9 months) — and plan to spend the off-season between Florida, family in Indiana and Missouri and also doing some mission work in the Dominican Republic with organizations like One Child Matters, Bright Hope Ministries and Help One Now.

While the Gibsons were away with baseball, their Florida neighbors put up storm shutters that kept out the wind and water of Hurricane Irma.

Right now, the Kyle and the Twins are focused on holding on to the second wild card in the American League and Gibson could be part of any postseason success enjoyed by Minnesota.

Currently 12-10 with a 5.02 earned run average in 28 starts with 115 strikeouts and 60 walks in 154 1/3 innings, Gibson said he is right when he can establish his four-season and two-seam fastballs and mix in his sinker, slider and change-up.

“The fastball is very important to me,” says Gibson, who has worked with Neil Allen as Twins pitching coach since 2015. “I’m working on locating it and getting ahead (in the count). I’m trying to get (hitters) to come out of their approach and make them make quick decisions.”

While he occasionally needs to elevate a pitch, Gibson tends to concentrate on keeping balls low to induce grounders and let his defense help him out.

KYLEGIBSONTWINS

Kyle Gibson, a 2006 Greenfield-Central High School graduate, delivers a pitch for the Minnesota Twins. Gibson is in the starting rotation for a team fighting for a 2017 postseason berth. (MLB Photo)

 

Sinker effective pitch for Kokomo native, Padres minor leaguer Weir

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Making more of his pitches go down has helped T.J. Weir go up in professional baseball.

Weir, a graduate of Kokomo High School (2010) and Ball State University (2014), has incorporated a sinker into his pitching repertoire and is now at Double-A in the San Diego Padres organization after beginning the 2017 season at High-A.

According to Tim Weir, T.J.’s father, off-season throwing partner and pitching coach at Kokomo High, his son learned the sinker while playing catch a couple off-seasons back with big league reliever Craig Stammen.

Todd Linklater was one of T.J.’s pitching coaches at Ball State and had coached Stammen while guiding pitchers at the University of Dayton and helped get the two hurlers together.

“Last year he used a four-seam fastball and sometimes a sinker,” says Tim Weir. “This year, it’s primarily a sinker. He can rely on the sinker and can get a swing and miss or ground balls in counts where he used to give up hits.”

T.J. played at UCT Cal Ripken Baseball League until 12 and travel ball with the Central Indiana Kings (coached by Tim Weir, Chad Reida and Keith Vautaw) and Tim Weir-coached Indiana Force through his 15-year-old summer before he went with the Indiana Bulls to be coached by Todd Dunwoody then Alex Rynearson.

All the while Tim, a 1982 Kokomo graduate who played Wildkats baseball for Carl McNulty and Mike Smith, was paying close attention. He knows his sons’ mechanics almost better than he does.

“I don’t like to admit it, but sometimes he’s right,” says T.J. of his father. “He knows the game really well. He watches the game online and sees things I need to fix.”

The 25-year-old Weir now often uses the sinker — thrown at 90 to 93 mph — in fastball situations and it has aided the 6-foot right-hander in going 4-1 with a 1.65 earned run average in 31 games and 49 innings with the Double-A San Antonio Missions after going 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 10 games and 19 1/3 innings with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm.

Weir, who also throws a curve, slider and occasional change-up, has a way of describing himself as a pitcher.

“I’m a strike thrower,” says T.J. “I get ahead in the count and keep (hitters) off-balance.”

In his last 10 appearances, Weir has thrown 101 of 230 pitches for strikes while going 1-0 with an 0.56 ERA over 16 innings.

“I take pride in throwing strikes, being able to field my position and things like that,” says Weir, who was often a third baseman or shortstop when not pitching at Ball State.

Getting ahead in the count allows Weir to sometimes “pitch backwards” from the conventional sequence.

“The Texas League only has eight teams (four in Texas and four up north),” says T.J. “We play the same three teams over and over again. You need to be able to adjust on the fly.”

But players don’t actually fly in the Texas League. All trips are by bus. The shortest from San Antonio is 2 1/2 hours. It takes about 12 to get to Springfield, Mo. The Missions take two buses on that long haul and don’t have to share seats. Otherwise, players do their best to get comfortable on one. Not an easy task for Weir, but even tougher for bullpen mates like (6-9 Brad Wieck) and (6-7 Trey Wingenter).

T.J. played for Steve Edwards at Kokomo and was a classmate of right-hander Nolan Sanburn, now in the Washington Nationals system.

Weir was recruited to Ball State by Greg Beals and played for Alex Marconi his first two collegiate seasons and Rich Maloney his last two. Before Linklater, his pitching coach at BSU was Jeremy Plexico.

“It was cool to be able to hear from both of them,” says T.J. “They came from two very different experiences. (Plexico) is tall and left-handed. (Linklater) is a short righty.”

Weir went back and forth from believer to starter at Ball State. He was primarily a starter his senior season, when he was selected in the 17th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Padres.

Of his 124 minor league appearances, all but 20 have come as a reliever.

“I’ve found a rhythm and a routine I like in the pen,” says T.J., who usually pitches two innings per outing and has yet to pitch on consecutive days.

He has also learned much from San Antonio pitching coach Jimmy Jones.

“He’s great,” says T.J. of Jones. “We relievers listen in during starter’s bullpens. He’s always dropping knowledge.”

Jones has conveyed the importance of control over the body — even when tired from the long season.

“You learn how to play catch the right way,” says T.J. “You can get in so many bad habits. We play six months straight. You learn how to conduct yourself as a professional and take every rep seriously.”

T.J. will be seriously busy once the 2017 season ends.

Giving back to his hometown, he will conduct a free kids baseball camp Sept. 30 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

On Nov. 18, T.J. is to marry former Ball State volleyball player Kati Vasalakis in Muncie and then move to Cincinnati where she is now working.

After recovering from the 2017 season, Weir begins ramping up his throwing program in preparation of 2018 in December.

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T.J. Weir delivers a pitch for the 2017 San Antonio Missions. The Kokomo, Ind., native is in the San Diego Padres organization. (San Antonio Missions Photo)

 

IHSBCA South All-Stars head coach McKeon sports diamond pedigree

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

B-A-S-E-B-A-L-L demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

So says Jeff McKeon, who has been chosen as South head coach for this weekend’s 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. Practices, junior showcase and banquet are slated for Friday, July 14, with two games Saturday, July 15, and one game Sunday, July 16, at Ball State University in Muncie.

“I believe you must respect the game,” says McKeon, who resigned as head coach at Plainfield High School after the 2017 season (Shane Abrell has been named as his successor). “Once you cross that line, you have to give 100 percent every single time. The game will humble you in a second. If you ever think you are bigger than the game, it will strike back at you in a second.”

McKeon, who led the Quakers to a 94-75 record in his six seasons, was an assistant at three schools prior to Plainfield — one season for Jason Engelbrecht at Evansville Central, two for Steve Johnston at Evansville Reitz and six for Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg.

At Plainfield, McKeon got to be the host coach for the IHSAA’s South semistate games. The field has two berms for spectators and a scoreboard in center field.

Coming from Evansville, where iconic Bosse Field and other parks all have unique features, McKeon likes that the facility is not a “cookie-cutter.”

“I’m a big baseball purist,” says McKeon. “The ballpark should be part of the experience.

“Plainfield has some uniqueness to it.”

A 1993 Evansville North High School graduate, his high school coach was Dan Sparrow. He was a catcher and then a middle infielder at Ashford University in Iowa, graduating in 1997. He also worked two years for the Clinton LumberKings as an intern, grounds crew worker and clubhouse assistant and one for the Birmingham Barons as assistant GM for concessions and in sales.

Jeff comes from a baseball family. He is the son of former minor league catcher and scout and current Evansville Otters radio analyst Bill McKeon. In 2010, Bill was briefly the Otters manager with Jeff as a coach.

Bill McKeon and Joe Unfried, Jeff’s uncle, were teammates on the 1956 Evansville Braves of the Class B Three-I League and founded the non-profit Tri-State Hot Stove League in 1993.

The ’55 Evansville Braves were owned and managed by Bob Coleman. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inducted Coleman in 1980.

Coleman, Engelbrecht, Johnston, Sparrow and Unfried, are all members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class in 2016.

Bill’s older brother and Jeff’s uncle is Jack McKeon, the manager for the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins. Jack also served as skipper for the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds.

In his first off-season as general manager of the Padres, he began to rebuild the club with a series of deals and became known as “Trader Jack.”

Jack’s sons have also been involved in professional baseball. Kasey McKeon was a catcher in the Detroit Tigers system and is now director of player procurement for the Washington Nationals.

Kelly McKeon has scouted for the Padres, where he signed Greg Booker, son-in-law to Jack, brother-in-law to Kasey and Kelly father of former Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer Zach Booker. Greg Booker is now a pro scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I’ve had some good mentors,” says McKeon, who is a business teacher at Plainfield and IHSBCA vice president on a leadership team that has included Brian Abbott as executive director, Shane Edwards (Oak Hill), Kevin Hannon (Knox), Scott Hughes (Shelbyville), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Phil McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central) and Ricky Romans (Charlestown).

“Those are awesome guys,” says McKeon. “They are great coaches and even better men. Being with those guys has been life-altering for me.”

Fundamentals and instruction are important to McKeon, who has thrown countless hours of batting practice trying to turn weaknesses into strengths.

“I’ve worked with a lot of very good players,” says McKeon. “But you win not with best players, you win with the role player that has to step up.”

McKeon, who is in charge of vendors at the IHSBCA State Clinic in January, will serve as a vice president in 2017-18 and is due to be president the following year.

This year marked his third as South representative and coach for the Crossroads Series, held the past two season at Ball State.

With Rich Andriole as head coach, the South swept the North in three games at Whiting in 2016.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” says McKeon, who will be assisted by Brad Catey (Hagerstown), Justin Tucker (Batesville), John Major (Columbus East) and have a Plainfield Quaker on the roster for the third straight year. It’s first baseman Daylan Nanny (bound for Arizona Western College) in 2017. Outfielder/first baseman Jackson Blevins was selected in 2016 and went on to Saint Joseph’s College. He is playing for the Dubois County Bombers this summer. After the closing of SJC, Blevins is slated to play at Wabash College in 2017-18.

Pitcher Antonio Lucciola represented Plainfield in the North/South series in 2015.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to be recognized for their accomplishments,” says McKeon.

Jeff and wife Liz have a son and a daughter — Gavin (9) and Katie (5).

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Jeff McKeon, head baseball coach at Plainfield High School 2012-17, will be head coach for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.

Fort Wayne coach, toolmaker Dunno helps pitchers gain velocity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana baseball man and toolmaker has combined his know-how in both areas to create a training device that has been embraced by professional and college teams.

Rich Dunno, a former college and current youth coach and owner and CEO of Ground Force Sports in Fort Wayne, has been making the King of The Hill to promote the importance of leg drive in the pitching motion.

Dunno says proper leg drive increases velocity and decreases stress on the pitching arm.

“As a pitching coach, I always knew you needed to use the legs,” says Dunno, who once led hurlers at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., and still gives lessons. “Back then it was called leg drive, now it’s more or less known as ground force.”

In working with young pitchers, he noticed that as they pushed the indoor mound back with their back leg their speed went up.

Dunno took his engineering background to develop a device that would let the pitchers know when they were properly getting the load on their back leg to transfer energy through the kinetic chain which ended with them delivering the baseball.

When pushed back 3/16 of an inch, the top plate of King of The Hill (www.trainwiththeking.com) makes a clacking sound.

“There is an auditory reward,” says Dunno. “When they hear (the pop of the plate moving back), they know they’re doing it right.

“It’s like Pavlov’s Dogs. Everytime they heard that bell — ding, ding, ding — he knew it was time to eat.

“Even in the big leagues, they want to hear that noise. If you don’t do it correctly, you don’t hear anything.”

The device, which has gone through some evolution in the four years since Dunno began tinkering the with the concept, has an adjustable spring that can be tightened to increase the force it takes to move the mound back.

When Dunno, a 1981 Fort Wayne North Side High School graduate who played for Myron Dickerson and then Dale Doerffler his last two prep seasons, first began to study pitching, he found two basic styles: Drop-and-drive (think Tom Seaver) and Stand Tall-and-fall (used by many pitchers).

“More and more, they are finding out that the healthier pitchers use the ground force through that (kinetic) chain,” says Dunno. “They did studies that showed faster throwers created more force off the back leg. We want energy in that front foot that cause the hips to rotate.

“It’s a kinetic chain reaction.”

Dunno has learned the Major League Baseball players are resistant to change and yet 20 MLB teams, including the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres use the King of the Hill (or King of the Swing which helps hitters create a back-side load prior to the weight transfer) to be used by their big league and minor league clubs.

Dunno was at Wrigley Field in Chicago last week meeting with San Diego bullpen coach Doug Bochtler, hitting coach Alan Zinter and was introduced to the Padres bench coach.

“(Zinter) and Mark McGwire say they love it because the kids can not only feel themselves doing it, but hear themselves,” says Dunno. “They know instantly whether they’re doing it right.”

Noting that “mass times acceleration equals power,” some strong hitters can get away with moving their upper body and “squashing the bug” while driving the ball.

“Some of the smaller guys like (Javier) Baez and (Bryce) Harper, they have to create more kinetic energy — getting the hips and upper body to rotate to create that power. If you see a video, watch what they do. Their back leg comes off the ground because they are accelerating so fast.”

A handle makes it mobile to place on mounds, in batter’s boxes, wherever.

Dunno has a couple of patents and he is entertaining an appearance on the Shark Tank TV show.

With the same process of transferring energy in mind, Dunno has devised a Queen of the Hill for fast pitch softball and he is working on trainers for football, track and other sports.

He has even come up with a line of tacky, all-weather “bat snot” — an answer to pine tar sticks — to give hitters a better grip.

KINGOFTHEHILL

The King of the Hill leg drive trainer, devised by Fort Wayne-based coach and toolmaker Rich Dunno of Ground Force Sports, has been adopted by many Major League Baseball organizations and college programs. (Ground Force Sports Photo)

RICHDUNNO

The blogger meets Rich Dunno, creator of The King of the Hill, King of the Swing, Queen of the Hill and more.

 

Diamondbacks’ Bryk still learning after decades around baseball

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bill Bryk is a grateful guy.

He has his health and he has a job he thoroughly enjoys.

Bryk began his professional baseball odyssey as a player in 1969.

At 66 and a cancer survivor, the Schererville resident is still in pro ball in his seventh season special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I’ve been cancer-free for four years. Thank the Good Lord,” says Bryk, who lost a daughter, Becky, to leukemia and friend and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to salivary gland cancer. “I’ve been blessed to be in this game as long as I have. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“It’s time to give back to the game.”

The former Bill Brykczysnki grew up on the south side of Chicago, graduated from Thornridge High School in Dolton, Ill., and pitched four seasons in the Washington Senators organization. He started coaching college ball in 1974 and managing independent teams in 1977.

He worked with the San Diego Padres 1979-82, managing Gwynn in Walla Walla in 1981. When Gwynn was inducted at Cooperstown in 2007, Bryk was his guest.

In 1982, he left the Padres to work for the Pittsburgh Pirates, both in scouting and player development. Over the next 18 years, Bryk would work as a scouting supervisor, special assignment scout, assistant scouting director, assistant farm director, national cross-checker and pitching coordinator.

“That’s where I really learned the business,” says Bryk.

In November 2010, he joined the Diamondbacks.

Almost five decades in, Bryk is still gaining knowledge.

“I’m still learning,” says Bryk, the 2013 Midwest Scout of the Year. “We’ve got sabermetrics, analytics — all this stuff.”

Arizona, where Mike Hazen is executive vice president and general manager, has three major league scouts (Todd Greene and Mike Piatnik are the other two) with duties divided up among the 30 MLB teams.

Based in northwest Indiana where he’s called home since 1988, Bryk goes out to scout the 10 teams in the American League Central and National League Central. He keeps a report on every player, logging their strengths and weaknesses.

“Are they getting better or getting worse?,” says Bryk. “But — most importantly — what’s inside of them? Are they gamers? Overachievers? Underachievers?

“(Major league scouts are) more detectives more than anything else. You’ve got to find everything you can on them. That’s where contacts come in. You have people you trust in every organization. When you get old and gray-headed you know more people.”

One baseball person who Bryk has known for a long time is Mark Haley. He scouted the California native as a player and has maintained a friendship as Haley has coached and managed in the White Sox and Diamondbacks systems (he is now director of training and instruction of the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and coaches travel baseball).

Bryk, who advises on player trades, acquisitions and roster

moves, has seen all his assigned teams once already and is going back for another look. He plans to take in the Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians series and see New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox after that.

“I’m tightening up my reports,” says Bryk, who will meet with other pro scouts in Arizona at the end of June to discuss organizational needs (as the July 31 trade deadline looms). “We used to do it a little bit later. A lot of teams don’t know if they’re going to be buyers or sellers yet.”

Since he is a pro scout, Bryk was not directly involved with the recent Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He did attend a post-draft Pro Day hosted Tuesday, June 20 by the Hammond Lakers.

“There were 65 hungry guys — guys worth seeing,” says Bryk of the free tryout event held by Lakers general manager Anthony Spangler. “We gave everybody a fair chance.”

Bryk notes that independent baseball still brings talent to the majors. Evidence of that is David Peralta. The outfielder played American Association before being signed by the Diamondbacks. He went 4-for-5 Wednesday, June 21 vs. the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

Chris Carminucci, Arizona’s independent league coordinator and pro scout, runs independent league tryout camps during spring training in Arizona and in the Chicago suburbs at the home of the Windy City Thunderbolts. That team just sent several players into affiliated baseball, including pitcher Brady Muller to the Diamondbacks.

Hammond Bishop Noll High School graduate Matt Pobereyko, a former Diamondbacks minor leaguer, just signed with the New York Mets organization after spending time with the independent Florence (Ky.) Freedom.

“I’m glad to see he got another chance,” says Bryk of Pobereyko. “I had more 53rd-rounders make it than high draft picks.”

Rob Mackowiak, a 1994 Lake Central High School graduate, was drafted by Bryk for the Pirates in the Round 53 (when the draft went that deep). The outfielder/third baseman made over 2,600 plate appearances in the majors with the Pirates, White Sox, Padres and Washington Nationals.

“It’s what’s in their heart,” says Bryk in determining who makes it or not. “How much do they want it?”

Even with 40 MLB Draft rounds now, talent is sometimes missed and those players can sometimes get a second chance.

“Scouting is not an exact science,” says Bryk. “You try to make the best decisions you can. Sometimes guys are late bloomers. I ran 20 camps a year as an area scout with the Pirates.”

Bryk also gives back to baseball as an instructor in the winter months at the Morris Baseball and Softball Center inside Omni 41 in Schererville.

Sometimes an agent will send a player to Bryk to straighten out his mechanics.

One such player is Dominican right-hander Ariel Hernandez, who worked with Bryk and his son, Billy Bryk Jr., who has coached in independent and affiliated baseball.

Hernandez has been averaging nearly 99 mph with his four-seam fastball out of the bullpen for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017.

Bryk says he did not charge the agent for his services. It was just a part of giving back to baseball.

BILLBRYK

Bill Bryk began his association with professional baseball in 1969. At 66, the Schererville, Ind., resident is in his seventh season as special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Arizona Diamondbacks Photo)