Tag Archives: Western Kentucky University

Frankton graduate Weins embraces role as Purdue reliever

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

Since Landon Weins has arrived on the Purdue University campus no one has pitched more innings out of the bullpen than the 6-foot-2 right-hander.
Going into the the April 14-16 series at Penn State (the April 12 game against Purdue has been postponed), Weins (rhymes with Wines) has taken the bump for the Boilermakers 28 times totaling 54 innings. This spring, the senior is 3-2 with a 2.48 earned run average, 27 strikeouts and nine walks for a squad that is 21-7.
The 2018 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School embraces the relief role because he see it as the best way he can contribute to the team.
“A lot of times I’m coming in behind a guy like Jackson Smeltz who is pretty dominant and he can get us ahead as well,” says Weins, who pitched for head coach Rob Fournier at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 2019 and 2020. “I really enjoy (coming out of the bullpen). It gives me time to see the hitters and what they prefer and what they’re struggling with that day.”
Between in-game observation, video and scouting reports, Purdue pitchers have a pretty good idea of what to expect from an opposing offense.
Weins uses a three-pitch mix — fastball, slider and change-up.
“I made a really big adjustment in the off-season and my slider has become probably my best pitch this year,” says Weins. “Mine has like a gyro spin. It’ll come in straight and then go down and away from a right-handed hitter.
“It’s like a curveball, but it’s flat and usually harder.”
The slider can be thrown in any count.
“I feel pretty comfortable with all three of my pitches,” says Weins. “Anytime I’m out there I want to compete as hard as I can.”
Weins has been used in long relief with stints of 5 1/3 innings against Ohio State, 4 1/3 against South Dakota State and 4 against Bellarmine. Five other appearances have been for 2 to 2 2/3 frames.
Playing for Boilers head coach Greg Goff and pitching coach Chris Marx, words of advice have carried with Weins and kept him steady.
“They say remain the same,” says Weins. “Out on the mound, obviously there’s going to be days where you don’t have your best stuff. You’re going to be hit a little. You always keep your composure. If you’re going to carry around a swagger when you’re doing good, you always carry around that swagger when you’re not doing as good.
“It’s such a quick game that can humble you very fast. But just because you have one bad day doesn’t mean it needs to lead to more.”
There’s a rule after an outing — good or bad — that keeps players moving forward and not looking back.
“We says flush it at midnight,” says Weins.
The son of Scott and Angela Weins watched older brother Logan Weins (a 2014 Frankton graduate who pitched mostly in relief at Western Kentucky University 2015-17) on the diamond before him.
“He’s probably one of my biggest impacts in his game,” says Landon of Logan. “Growing up he was always someone I could look up to. He just did things the right way. He’s definitely been my No. 1 supporter. He pushed me the hardest and gave me the hardest criticism that I needed to hear.
(My parents) have always been a huge support system for me in no matter what I do or choose.”
Landon played in the Frankton Town & Country Baseball before moving into travel ball at 10. He was with the Indiana Bandits followed by Indiana Magic and Indiana Nitro. He spent his 17U summer with the Indiana Bulls.
Brad Douglas was — and still is — the head baseball coach at Frankton.
“He’s a great guy and always been one to have my back if I ever needed anything,” says Weins of Douglas. “I loved playing for him.
“He had a fire to him that I definitely didn’t like, especially when he was getting on me.
“I appreciated him a lot more when I got into college than I did in high school because I was able to look back and see he wanted what was best for me and our team. He just pushed us to be our best.”
As a Selling and Sales Management major at Purdue, Weins needs at least one more semester to get his bachelor’s degree.
He chose that field of study in part because it fits his personality.
“I definitely enjoy being a social person and talking,” says Weins. “I’ve met a lot of different people throughout the game of baseball. I’ve made many connections.”

Since 2021, Frankton (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School graduate Landon Weins has pitched a team-high 54 relief innings as part of the Purdue University staff. (Purdue University Photo)

Scully says much goes into developing Ball State pitchers

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

As Ball State University develops baseball pitchers, one approach does not fit all.
Each individual is assessed and brought along while keeping in mind what is best for them.
“We’re not making a broad stroke,” says Larry Scully, the Cardinals pitching coach since August 2019. “Everyone is different in terms of their needs.”
Scully, who began his coaching career in 1992 and has mentored 16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections, uses the example of a freshman arriving on the Muncie, Ind., campus in the fall.
That hurler is introduced to Bill Zenisek, Ball State’s baseball strength & conditioning coach.
“He gets a measurement of movement for all the players,” says Scully. From this evaluation, which includes a TPI movement screening, specific exercises are prescribed that will help them become an efficient athlete.
Players are introduced to proper nutrition and the weight room and learn that terminology.
Rapsodo equipment is used during bullpen sessions and the motion-capture data is used for development as is Synergy slow-motion camera feedback.
Then there’s the throwing program.
“We get to see how the arm moves,” says Scully.
As a part of that there is long toss. Some will go long and high and up to 300 feet the day after they throw and others will focus on mechanics and toss on a line for distance.
Through it all, a pitcher’s delivery is checked for efficiency.
How does he start?
How does he drive down the mound?
How does he finish?
Since Scully is Driveline-certified, the Cardinals will use bands, PlyoCare Balls and mediBalls in training.
Bullpen sessions may be geared toward refining a certain pitch or location.
A pitcher’s workload — heavy or light in terms of innings or the number or intensity pitches — will also play into training.
Fall ball began at Ball State the first week of September and just recently concluded.
Pitchers worked alone the first two weeks and were then incorporated into team practices and scrimmages. Then adjustments were made during individual work.
Until Dec. 3, pitchers will work eight hours a week, including strength sessions and 45 minutes a day Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays with their pitching coach.
“We’ll try to maintain what they do well and get better to help us win,” says Scully.
Before coming to Ball State, Scully spent five seasons at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where he worked with Braves head coach Elvis Dominguez.
“We were one of the top academic schools in the Missouri Valley Conference,” says Scully, who also served as Bradley’s recruiting coordinator. the 2019 Braves led the MVC in earned run average (3.37), fewest hits allowed per game (7.21) and WHIP (1.27).
What drew Scully to the Cardinals?
“Ball State has a rich tradition in winning and developing pitchers,” says Scully.
At BSU, Scully joined head coach Rich Maloney, who became the 27th active NCAA Division I coach to earn his 800th career coaching win in 2019. To date, Maloney is 877-581-1 (546-337-1 in his second stint with Ball State) in 26 seasons. He has coached 65 players who were drafted 72 times. He’s coached six first-rounders with only one being drafted out of high school. The most-recent is right-hander Drey Jameson (34th overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019).
Maloney paid Scully a compliment during the interview process.
“Everywhere you’ve been the pitching staff has gotten a bump,” says Scully of Maloney’s words.
The 2021 MLB Draft was very satisfying for Scully.
Three pitchers who the coach helped hone his craft were taken in the first seven rounds — Ball State’s Chayce McDermott (fourth round by the Houston Astros) and Bradley’s Brooks Gosswein (fourth round by the Chicago White Sox) and Theron Denlinger (seventh round by the White Sox).
When looking at pitching potential, Ball State recruiting coordinator Blake Beemer is often drawn to athletes of a certain build.
“They are long and lean with loose arm action,” says Scully. “Others might not be that, but they may be left-handed and can get left-handers out.
“Blake does a good job of finding low-lying fruit. Here’s something we can probably fix (about the pitcher’s mechanics or pitch selection).
“There’s a lot of moving parts. Everyone sees the final product, but there’s a lot of work that goes into it.”
Prior to Bradley, Scully was pitching coach at Murray (Ky.) State University (2014), Lamar (Colo.) Community College (2010-13), assistant at Saint Louis University (2007), head coach at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. (2000-06) and assistant at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa (1999) and Indiana Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa (1992-96).
Dan Skirka was a Murray State assistant when Scully was there and is now the Racers head coach.
Scully was born in Toronto and played at York Memorial Collegiate Institute in 1986. His head coach was Jim Ridley, who was later inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Ridley twins — Jeremy and Shayne — were teammates who wound up playing at Ball State and were both drafted in 2000 (Jeremy Ridley by the Toronto Blue Jays and Shayne Ridley by the Baltimore Orioles.).
“Jim was a tremendous influence on me,” says Scully. “He was a terrific coach and a terrific person.
“Some are just very lucky. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very good baseball people.”
A left-handed pitcher, Scully competed in the Junior Olympics at 18U and then played for and coached with Rick Mathews (now in the Colorado Rockies organization) at Indian Hills and played for Joel Murrie (now with the Los Angeles Angels) at Western Kentucky University.
Scully earned an English Literature from WKU in 1992 and master’s degree in Sports Administration from the United State Sports Academy in 1994. 
“It was my intent to be an English teacher and baseball coach,” says Scully. “I learned that’s tough gig. Both require a lot of time. Now I’m helping daughter now with her grammar.”
Larry and wife Shari have six children from 30 down to eighth-grader Ava. Shari Scully has taught for nearly 30 years and is employed as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher at Tremont (Ill.) Middle School.

Larry Scully (Ball State University Photo)

Mishawaka grad Jablonski gets his college baseball chance at Valpo U.

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

Grant Jablonski had assumed that his baseball playing career was coming to an end with his couple of innings on the mound in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series in Madison, Ind.
The Mishawaka (Ind.) High School graduate had not gotten any college baseball honors and had already enrolled as a student-only at Purdue University.
“I had given up on baseball,” says Jablonski, who exited Mishawaka in 2019 as the school record holder in career pitching wins (20) and career stolen bases (63) and was part of three sectional championship teams on the diamond (2016, 2018, 2019). “I wanted to play at a bigger school, but I had nowhere to go after I graduated.”
It turns out that two former Valparaiso (Ind.) University assistant coaches were going to help Jablonski turn things around.
Nic Mishler, who was then on the staff at Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College, was scouting at a sectional game and reached out to Jablonski.
“I owe him a lot,” says Jablonski of Westview High School graduate Mishler who is now head coach at DACC.
Ben Wolgamot, a Western Kentucky University who had also been at Valpo, pulled some strings.
It also helped Jablonski that VU head coach Brian Schmack was at the all-star series since his son, Kyle Schmack, was participating — and on his way to MVP.
After a postgame conversation, Jablonski went to visit Coach Schmack on the Valpo campus and soon was starting his NCAA Division I baseball experience.
“It’s crazy,” says Jablonski, who was 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds when he stepped on the campus. “I owe Coach Schmack a lot for giving me a chance.
“I’m still trying to put weight on,” says right-hander Jablonski who is now up to 5-10 and 175.
In two seasons (2020-21), he has appeared in six games (all in relief) and is 0-0 with a 6.24 earned run average with six strikeouts and four walks in 4 1/3 innings.
In his second season in the College Summer League at Grand Park, Jablonski has been working a morning jobs and commuting to Westfield, Ind., on the days he starts. On July 20, the Moon Shots right-hander pitched 5 1/3 no-hit innings with one walk. The reason he came out of the game is that the team only had two pitchers available for a nine-inning game and Michael Brewer needed some mound time.
Jablonski played for the A-Team when the CSL cropped up in 2020 as other summer collegiate leagues were shutting down during COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a really good league,” says Jablonski, noting that University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis (No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft to the Pittsburgh Pirates) and Miami University fireballer and Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate Sam Bachman (No. 9 overall to the Los Angeles Angels) played at Grand Park in 2020.
Former San Francisco Giants scout Kevin Christman has been Jablonski’s head coach in both his CSL seasons.
“He’s a super good coach to have,” says Jablonski of Christman. “He’s a good source of baseball knowledge.”
Throwing from the three-quarter overhand arm slot, Jablonski employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, change-up and slider. His four-seamer sits about 86 to 89 mph. His curve moves end-over-end in a 12-to-6 fashion. His “circle” change has a low spin rate and drops. His slider — with more horizontal break — is somewhere between the fastball and change-up with its spin.
“The fastball and change-up compliment each other well when its coming from the same (release point).”
Jablonski says his fastball has spun at around 2300 rpm with the curve as high as about 2500.
There are flat screens at Grand Park that prominently display spin rates and velocity.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” says Jablonski. “You don’t need to fire 95, 96, 97 to be a good college pitcher.
“You need to threw multiple pitches in multiple counts for strikes and have command.”
Jablonski saw Schmack employ an opener (right-hander Easton Rhodehouse) and followed him with a starter (righty Ryan Mintz) in Valpo’s weekend series and both were able to spot pitches well and pitch to weak contact.
Left-hander Geremy Guerrero had a standout season for Missouri Valley Conference rival Indiana State University.
“He is by no means overpowering,” says Jablonski of Guerrero. “But he throws all pitches for command in all counts.”
One thing Jablonski appreciates about Schmack is the he makes small tweaks and does not overhaul a pitcher’s mechanics if it’s not necessary.
“He doesn’t try to change you too much,” says Jablonski. “It’s smaller changes.
“He knows what he’s talking about for sure.”
Born and raised in Mishawaka, Grant played for the Landsharks and later the Mishawaka Mayhem (2011-13), coached by father Jason Jablonski and Mike Fisher. That was followed by the Mike Lee-coached Indiana Shredders (2014-17), Mike Logan-coached Michiana Scrappers (2017-18) and Jim Shively-coached Indiana Chargers (2018-19).
Jablonski earned nine varsity letters at Mishawaka — four in baseball, three in basketball and two in football. His head coaches were John Huemmer in baseball, Ryan Watson and Ron Heclinski in basketball and Bart Curtis and Keith Kinder in football.
“He’s a great coach,” says Jablonski of Huemmer. “We had such a senior-led team (in 2019). He let us work on our own.”
The pitcher/middle infielder earned IHSBCA Class 4A honorable mention all-state honors in 2019 and was all-Northern Indiana Conference second team in 2017 and 2019.
Jablonski, who turns 21 on Sept. 1, is a Business Analytics major and Supply Chain and Logistics Management minor at Valpo U.
Grant’s parents are Jason and Kelley Jablonski. His siblings — both older — are Sydney Jablonski and Ryan Lewis.
Jason Jablonski is administrative director at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. Kelley Jablonski works at Beacon Health & Fitness.
Sydney Jablosnki is heading into pharmacy school at Purdue.
Ryan Lewis, who played baseball at Mishawaka High and Ancilla College, is employed by the City of Mishawaka.

WSBT-TV Video on Grant Jablonski
Grant Jablonski (Valparaiso University Photo)
Grant Jablonski (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)
Grant Jablonski (Valparsaiso University Photo)

Glant, Dykes Triple-A coaches for New York Yankees

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

A pair of coaches at the beginning of their professional baseball coaching careers with Indiana ties are together in the New York Yankees organization.
Former Ball State University assistant Dustin Glant is the pitching coach and one-time Indiana University assistant Casey Dykes the hitting coach for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre (Pa.) Railriders of Triple-A East (formerly the International League).
Both were hired by the Yankees in the summer of 2019. After getting their bearings in the system, they went to instructional league that fall and their first big league spring training in 2020.
Glant and Dykes both reside in the Tampa, Fla., area near the organization’s training headquarters during the offseason — Glant with wife Ashley, daughter Evelyn (4) and son David (who turns 2 in December); Dykes with wife Chaney (a former Western Kentucky University basketball player), sons Jett (4) and Kash (2) and daughter Lainey (going on 3 months).
At Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Glant and Dykes serve on a staff that features manager Doug Davis, outfield/baserunning coach Raul Dominguez, infield coach Caonabo Cosme, athletic trainer Darren London and strength and conditioning coach Larry Adegoke.
With their busy daily schedules, Glant and Dykes don’t spend much time together during the day. They say hello in the morning and then wind down together after games.
Glant, 39 (he turns 40 July 20), guided pitchers at BSU from 2017-19 for Cardinals head coach Rich Maloney.
As a player, Glant pitched for Generals head coach Dave Fireoved at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wayne High School and Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber at Purdue University and had pro stints in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and independent ball.
Glant coached at Marathon (Fla.) and Mount Vernon (Fortville, Ind.) high schools, was a volunteer at Ball State then head coach at Lapel (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University before returning to BSU late in 2016 as pitching coach.
Dykes, 31, was the hitting coach at Indiana under head coach Jeff Mercer. Dykes played at Western Kentucky for Hilltoppers head coach Chris Finwood and was a graduate assistant to head coach Matt Myers when Mercer was a WKU volunteer.
A 2008 Franklin (Tenn.) High School graduate, who played for Admirals head coach Brent Alumbaugh, Dykes spent four seasons at Western Kentucky (2009-12) and served two seasons as an assistant, becoming volunteer when Mercer left for Wright State University.
Before Indiana, Dykes was hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on Keydets head coach Jonathan Hadra’s staff at Virginia Military Institute (2015-18).
Glant says his gameday at the pro level is similar to what it was in college.
“I try to get as much one-on-one and small-group time as possible,” says Glant. “If I don’t I feel I miss things.”
The difference is that in college, Glant spent a lot of time in front of a computer reviewing video on how to attack hitters. The process is more streamlined at the pro level.
“It’s more development focused here,” says Glant, who might focus on a pitcher’s need to improve at holding runners or locating his fastball in a certain count. “We want to win, but we work on the big picture (getting players ready for the big leagues).”
Dykes says there more a sense of urgency in pro ball, especially at the Triple-A level where players have more experience.
“You don’t have the background with them (like college players who have been recruited and are usually around for years to build a relationship and go through a fall development season),” says Dykes. “In the pros, you’re playing so many games and you don’t have an offseason with them.
“Things are changing constantly.”
Glant’s gameday starts with preparing for the day and looking at video of the previous night’s game. In the afternoon, he reviews that with pitchers and finds the positives.
Then he oversees staggered bullpen sessions for starters and — just before batting practice — relievers, who might go through a full bullpen or just “touch and feel” to stay sharp.
BP is also the time he sits down with that night’s starter, both catchers and analyst Shea Wingate to map out a attack plan.
Glant says Wingate’s insight is helpful.
“He may find that a pitcher needs to throw more sliders,” says Glant. “We look for places where there are good spots to throw more sliders.”
Once the game starts, Glant is right by Davis to make pitching-related decisions. Dykes watches his hitters and offers suggestions if necessary.
At Triple-A, there are a mix of veteran players with MLB service time and younger ones trying to earn their first big league call-up.
“It’s almost all like assistant coaches,” says Glant of having vets around. “They educate guys in the bullpen. It happens naturally. Guys get together and they start start talking.
“They’re kind of mentors to the young guys. It’s been great.”
Dykes, who starts his gameday with a workout and video study followed by plenty of batting cage time, sees his job as providing the last piece of the puzzle for players trying to return and debut at the big league level.
“I want to help these guys maximize who they are as a player,” says Dykes. “It’s good to work with guys who have experienced it.
“This is what they do for a living. They’re all-in.”
Like the rest of the world, Glant and Dykes learned a different way of doing things thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that caused cancellation of the 2020 minor league season and separated coaches and players from in-person interaction.
“It went from being the worst thing ever to — honestly — the best thing ever,” says Glant. “We learned how to train our guys remotely via Zoom and video-conferencing. We were good at it.
“We had a lot of people get better without being at the complex during that time.”
Led by director of pitching Sam Briend, manager of pitch development Desi Druschel and Director of Performance John Kremer (an Indianapolis native who pitched of the University of Evansville and in the Yankees system), the organization devised a plan and found a way to develop during COVID.
“It was mind-blowing,” says Glant. “We had pitchers buys in.”
When Glant got a call in the fall of 2020, he went back to training face-to-face with a few 40-man roster players in Tampa and that rolled into 2021 big league camp.
Being away from the clubhouse and the dugout, Dykes missed the relationships.
“It made me appreciate that even more,” says Dykes. “It also taught me that you didn’t have to be hands-on and in-person with a player to help them develop.
“It was a unique challenge, but made me a better coach. It got me after my comfort zone.”
Using technology and video tools became part of Dykes’ coaching world and that will continue.
“The world we knew has completely changed,” says Dykes. “It’s definitely more efficient. There’s no arguing that.”
Dykes expresses thanks to the men who helped him along his baseball, path including Alumbaugh, Finwood, Myers, Hadra and Mercer as well as former Western Kentucky assistant and current DePauw University head coach Blake Allen and current Indiana assistants Justin Parker and Dan Held.
“(Alumbaugh) had a ton of influence,” says Dykes.”He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He saw the potential in me. But he wasn’t going to tell me. He was going to make me work for it.
“He had high expectations for me. He really challenged me during some important times in my life.”
Dykes, who was a catcher that turned into a third baseman, played three summers during college for Alumbaugh for the Texas Collegiate League’s Brazos Valley Bombers (College Station, Texas).
“(Myers, Finwood and Allen) taught me a lot about the work and mentality it takes to be successful,” says Dykes. “They knew that as soon as my playing days were over I wanted to coach.”
Dykes learned from Hadra about the importance of being detailed and fine-tuning the process to be able to communicate the message to players.
“He’s incredible at that,” says Dykes of Hadra. “He was still a fairly young head coach at that time, but you would never know it. He clings to that process.”
With Mercer, Parker and Held at Indiana, Dykes was part of a Hoosiers team that went 37-23 and won the Big Ten title in 2019. IU lost to Texas in the final round of the NCAA Austin Regional.

The 2021 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders field staff (from left): manager Doug Davis, pitching coach Dustin Glant, hitting coach Casey Dykes, outfield/baserunning coach Raul Dominguez, athletic trainer Darren London and strength and conditioning coach Larry Adegoke. Caonabo Cosme is the infield coach. (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders Photo)

Whitehead promotes lifelong lessons with Park Tudor Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s about baseball and beyond for Courtney Whitehead as head coach at Park Tudor School on the north side of Indianapolis.

Whitehead is in his 19th season leading the Panthers program. He is also the Upper School athletic director at the private K-12 school (Grades K-5 in the Lower School, 6-8 in the Middle School and 9-12 in the Upper School – 9-12). The institution, which has about 375 in the Upper School, sports a 100 percent college placement rate.

“We’re big on education-based athletics and helping shape these young men and prepare them for their future,” says Whitehead. “It’s about having them learn lifelong lessons through baseball and what it means to be a good teammate, be focused, win and lose with grace and learn how to compete.

“Pretty soon they’ll have to compete in the game of life and it’s pretty tough out there.”

As far as the baseball part of the equation?

“We want to be fundamentally sound, have a high baseball I.Q., throw strikes (as pitchers) and make the right play,” says Whitehead. “We play fundamentally well and we execute.”

Park Tudor has 21 players in the program in 2021 and plays both a varsity and junior varsity schedule. That means players are asked to play multiple positions and many get a chance to pitch.

“Guys have to be ready for their turn in the rotation,” says Whitehead, whose Panthers compete in the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). 

The baseball-playing schools see each other once each during the season.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Cascade (the 2021 host), Covenant Christian, Monrovia, Speedway and University. Park Tudor has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2013. A 1A state championship was earned in 1999 (Bob Hildebrand was head coach).

Among the other teams on the PT schedule are Brebeuf Jesuit, Bishop Chatard, Crawfordsville, Knightstown, Lapel, Scecina, South Putnam, Waldron and Wapahani.

Micah Johnson, a 2009 Park Tudor graduate, was a standout at Indiana University and played in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He is now blossoming in the art world, frequently traveling back and forth from Indy to LA.

Current Panthers senior C.J. Richmond has committed to Western Illinois University. Whitehead says he expects that underclassmen will have a chance to play college baseball.

Park Tudor plays its home games on its campus located on College Avenue — about three miles northwest of Bishop Chatard High School and three miles northeast of Butler University.

A large backstop/net system was just installed at the Panthers’ field, which typically hosts IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments but with the construction of a new wellness center those events will be hosted in 2021 by Cascade.

In a non-COVID-19 year, Park Tudor will usually field a sixth grade team and a seventh/eighth grade squad that take on area independent and public middle schools.

“This is not a normal year,” says Whitehead. “(Grades 6-8) are practicing but not competing due to the pandemic.”

Whitehead is a 1996 graduate of Crawfordsville High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge and longtime assistant Rhett Welliever and was a teammate of current Athenians head coach Brett Motz.

“My four years we won a lot of ball games,” says Whitehead. “Coach Froedge was a big fundamentals guy. We were the start of Crawfordsville being really good.

“We went 30-3 and lost to Portage in semistate my junior year. That’s when there was one class.”

A celebration honoring Froedge was postponed in 2020 and is slated for Saturday, May 15 when Park Tudor plays at Crawfordsville. Bruce Whitehead, Courtney’s father, was Athenians AD for many years.

Courtney Whitehead played three seasons of college baseball — two at Indiana University Purdue University (IUPUI) for Bret Shambaugh and one at Goshen College for Todd Bacon

Purdue University presented Whitehead with a Secondary Education degree in 2000. He earned a masters in Athletic Administration from Western Kentucky University in 2013. Whitehead is also in charge of awards for the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

As AD at Park Tudor, Whitehead oversees an athletic department that has 20 varsity teams, including baseball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls softball, girls tennis, boys track and field and girls track and field in the spring.

“I’ve got good people to help me to manage events and good set of coaches,” says Whitehead. “We communicate well.”

Whitehead began his coaching career at Lowell (Ind.) High School, assisting Kirk Kennedy in football and Mike Magley in basketball.

He was then a football assistant to Sean Tomey at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the same school year that he helped Jamie Sailors with Harrison High School (West Lafayette) baseball.

Assisting Whitehead at Park Tudor in 2021 are Toby Rogers, Fred Pinch and Madison Foster with the varsity and Brent Smith and Lane Waters with the JV. Rogers played high school ball at Bloomington South then at IUPUI for Shambaugh. Pinch is from the Washington D.C. area. Foster, a 2012 Park Tudor graduate, played for Whitehead and was on three consecutive semistate teams before playing at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.

Brent Smith is the father of former Whitehead player Calvin Smith. Harrison graduate Waters played baseball for the Raiders then basketball at Calvin University in Michigan.

Courtney and wife Beth have two sons and a daughter — all attending Park Tudor — freshman Nolan (as in Nolan Ryan), sixth grader Camden (as in Camden Yards in Baltimore) and second grader Addison (as in Clark and Addison, site of Wrigley Field in Chicago). 

“My wife is a big sports and baseball person,” says Courtney Whitehead.

Many of Whitehead’s relatives are in the Nappanee/Bremen area.

A.J. Whitehead, who was a basketball standout at NorthWood High School in Nappanee and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is associate director of strength and conditioning at Purdue.

Courtney Whitehead is head baseball coach and athletic director at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.

Crews roams center field, leads off for Evansville Purple Aces

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like the buffalo that used to roam his family’s farm, Kenton Crews is drawn to the open expanses of the baseball field.

A center fielder since his days at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., Crews uses the handle @superbuffaloman on Twitter and rambles in the middle of the outfield as a University of Evansville redshirt junior.

“I love playing center field,” says Crews, a 6-foot-1, 187-pounder. “It’s the most fun thing of everything about baseball.”

Crews, 23, tends to play shallow for the Purple Aces and chases balls over his head.

“I feel more comfortable running back and catching balls over my shoulder,” says Crews, who used to do a similar thing as Heritage Hills football wide receiver. 

When Crews reached UE, his favorite number — 5 — was not available. It was the number worn by his father Michael, who was a center fielder and a football player at Ball State University.

Kenton decided to go with 15 in purple, orange and white because that’s the digit donned by fly-chasing center fielder Jim Edmonds with the St. Louis Cardinals. Kenton grew up rooting for the Redbirds and stars like Edmonds, Jasper, Ind., native Scott Rolen and slugger Albert Pujols.

Speed put Crews in the outfield and made him effective in the lead-off slot with the Aces at-bat.

“One thing that we really focus on is that when the lead-off hitter each inning gets on base your chances of scoring go up,” says Crews. “A lot of (lead-off hitters) will take pitches. But if you can get a hittable pitch you should swing at it — especially fastballs early in the count instead of swing at the pitcher’s pitch.

“I’m usually pretty aggressive when I’m hitting lead-off.”

Going into a Missouri Valley Conference series April 23-25 against Illinois State, Crews is hitting .393 (35-of-89) with three home runs, four triples, eight doubles, 22 runs batted in, 21 runs scored and 6-of-9 in stolen bases. He sports a 1.145 OPS (.471 on-baseball percentage and .674 slugging average) in 28 games (24 starts).

For his career — which includes a redshirt season due to injury in 2019 — Crews is hitting .295 (161-of-545) with 11 homers, eight triples, 32 doubles, 79 RBIs, 81 runs and 33-of-42 in stolen bases. His OPS is .793 (.349 on-baseball percentage and .444 slugging average) in 143 games.

The righty swinger has 10 multi-hit games in 2021. He hit for the cycle (homer, triple, double and single) March 21 against visiting Butler. His 4-for-5 day produced four RBIs and two runs scored.

During his cycle, Crews tripled to left center in the bottom of the first inning, doubled to center in the third, homered to left in the seventh and singled in the eighth.

“Teammates were talking about it at a whisper,” says Crews about the Evansville dugout. “People didn’t know how to act.

“I was nervous about it. I didn’t want to let everybody down.”

The first two cycles of Crews’ baseball life came as a grade schooler with a Dale (Ind.) Buffaloes. 

Born in Evansville, Kenton lived with father Michael, mother Kathleen and sister Sienna in a house in Lincoln State Park.

Kenton grew up catching snakes, frogs and turtles for the nature center where his father was — and still is — an interpretive naturalist. He was a football coach at Heritage Hills Middle School was a long stretch.

When Kenton was 7, the family moved to a 100-acre farm, where the Crews raised big, wooly mammals and ran a restaurant — Buffalo Run Farm, Grill & Gifts — for two decades.

Michael coached Sienna’s T-ball team (she is a year older than her brother). After the Buffaloes, Kenton played travel ball with the Southern Indiana Spikes from 8-13. He was with the HHMS and was on a Pony team in Tell City, Ind.

As a high schooler, Crews was an all-stater and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series MVP as a senior in 2016 and also a all-state and all-conference baseball and football players. 

Greg Gogel was then head baseball coach at Heritage Hills.

“I love Coach Gogel with all my heart,” says Crews of a longtime family friend and former teammate of cousin Cole Seifrig (who took a lateral from future pro quarterback Jay Cutler and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cutler in overtime to lead Heritage Hills to a 27-24 victory against Zionville in the 2000 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game). “He taught me more lessons in life than anyone other than my dad.”

Gogel’s wife, Jenna, is Kenton’s chiropractor.

Crews played for the Louisville-based Ironmen Baseball Club then — the summer following his senior year at Heritage Hills — the Evansville Razorbacks.

After missing his 16U summer with a hamstring injury, Kenton decided to attend college where his sister Sienna ran cross country and track.

He also liked the sincerity displayed by Aces head coach Wes Carroll and his staff during the recruiting process.

“They came to me instead of me chasing after somebody else,” says Crews. “I appreciated that effort and that honesty.

“Coach Carroll knows what he’s talking about. He told me he can make me into a better baseball player. I hope we can be friends and have a relationship the rest of my life.”

Kenton is the fourth NCAA Division I competitor in the family.

“She’s the real athlete in our family,” says Kenton of his mother.

As Kathleen Beumel, she was a 10-time state champion in cross country and track at Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky. After attending Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, she transferred to the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she was cheer captain. At 20, she experienced a crippling injury.

“She broke her neck and was paralyzed,” says Kenton. “She wasn’t supposed to walk again or have kids.

“It’s a miracle she was able to move again and she was able to run.”

Kathleen Crews is now a program assistant at Heritage Hills and involved in the community.

Kenton graduated from UE in December 2020 with a degree in Communication, Advertising and Public Relations and is now pursuing a Masters in Leadership. All the courses are online.

“We get to work at our own pace,” says Crews. “We’re now learning empathy and showing people better ways to do things.”

Crews spent the summers of 2017 and 2018 with the Northwoods League’s Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs and after sitting out the summer of 2019 while recuperating he was with the NL’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Mac Daddies, where former Mankato teammate and Indiana State player C.J. Huntley was on the coaching staff and Greg Weyrich was the manager.

“He was a super nice guy and knew a lot,” says Crews, who has another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 spring season. “I’m waiting to see about this summer.

“I’d like to play another season if (Carroll) would have me.”

Kenton Crews (University of Evansville Photo)

Thurston now leading Southwestern Rebels on diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nearly a decade after guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Thurston is back in that role.

Hired as School Resource Officer at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., in January 2020, he became Rebels head baseball coach around mid-year.

Thurston was head coach at nearby Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School 2009-11 while also serving as D.A.R.E officer in the junior high. He resigned as baseball coach when he became chief of the City of Madison Police Department.

Meanwhile, he headed up Long Toss Indiana LLC and the Indiana Rawlings Tigers LLC, helping players with arm care and Mental Toughness Training.

A few years ago, Thurston sold the businesses as a package. He was invited by head coach Grant Bellak to join the Hanover College coaching staff and had spent 2019 and 2020 with the Panthers when the opportunities came along at Southwestern.

“One thing I really enjoyed about Hanover was the personal interaction with players,” says Thurston, who played tennis, basketball and baseball at Mooresville (Ind.) High School and baseball at Hanove. “They knew where they were in life and where they were going to go. They were thankful to play more baseball. But it’s probably not going to be their profession after college.

“I learned so much in the last two years about how to run a program and how to run a practice. I think I’ll be a much better coach than I was before.”

As SRO, Thurston estimates that he spends more than half his time on relationships with the rest split between counseling and his law enforcement duties.

Until becoming coach, he got to know students as people and not as athletes. 

Thurston took the coaching job in time to lead a few summer workouts in June and then guided IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities in the fall.

“It was intrasquad games, (batting practice), infield drills and arm care. We did long toss to stretch arms out,” says Thurston. “Looking back on it, it more about me getting to the know the kids and the program and them getting to know me and my style.

“My style has evolved over the years. At Madison — to a fault — I was a little bit of a control freak. Now I have really good assistants and I expect them to coach.”

Thurston’s Rebels staff includes Ethan Leach, Brian Crank and Brendon Bump.

Leach played at Madison Consolidated and Indiana University Southeast. Crank, who is dean of students and junior varsity boys basketball coach at Southwestern, played at Franklin (Ind.) College an was a JV coach for Thurston at Madison. Pitching coach Bump took the mound for Marshall University (Huntington, W.Va.) and was on Shayne Stock’s Hanover coaching staff.

Winter conditioning began at Southwestern last week. Thurston expects around 22 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring.

Southwestern (enrollment around 375) is a member of the Ohio River Valley Conference (with Jac-Cen-Del, Milan, Rising Sun, Shawe Memorial, South Ripley and Switzerland County).

ORVC teams play each other twice on a home-and-home basis.

Though it may not happen in 2021, Thurston says he would like those games to come in the same week.

“That avoids team having one really good pitcher to space out their conference games and pitch the same kid in every game,” says Thurston. “You get more of a true team conference champion.”

Super ATV Field, located on the Southwestern campus, has a turfed home plate area. A new scoreboard — never used with the cancellation of the 2020 season — is expected to be in-place for the Rebels’ first home game of 2021.

Thurston says there’s talk of lighting the field and expanding the dugouts.

“Of course that comes down to that almighty dollar,” says Thurston.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Milan, North Decatur, South Decatur, South Ripley and Switzerland County. Southwestern’s lone sectional title came in 1999.

The Madison Cubs are on the Rebels’ schedule. Southwestern has never beaten Madison in varsity baseball. When the Rebels won the Class 2A Jeffersonville Regional in 1999, the Cubs and Indiana Mr. Baseball Bryan Bullington won the 3A state championship.

“I’m going to be low key,” says Thurston of this spring’s Southwestern-Madison meeting. “I’m going to treat it just like any other game.

“There’s no pressure for us to win.”

Thurston is also a regional scout for SportsForce Baseball — a recruiting service that helps players find the best fit at the college level.

Last summer, he was able to help athletes while serving as a tournament director for Pastime Tournaments

“I often tell players to take baseball out of the equation,” says Thurston. “Is it the right fit academically, financially and socially? Is it the right distance from home and the right size of school?

“Check all the other boxes first. If baseball is important to you, let’s go somewhere we can play. Some are OK with being the program guy.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic has come extra years of eligibility for college players. Thurston says his gut tells him that it may be until 2023 before the trickle-down effect that hits younger college players — and even high schoolers — settles down.

There has traditionally been youth baseball run by the Hanover parks department. Southwestern schedules up to 20 games in the spring for its junior team of seventh and eighth graders.

Recent Southwestern graduate Bailey Elliott is on the baseball roster at Vincennes (Ind.) University. Thurston says he expects the Rebels to produce more college players in the next few years.

Dan and wife Jackie Thurston will be married 32 years in March. The couple has three children — Trey (29), Ryan (26) and Trisha (22).

Trey Thurston is in veterinary school at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.

Left-handed pitcher Ryan Thurston played at Madison Consolidated and Western Kentucky University and in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He was with the independent Chicago Dogs and Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2019 and is expected to be back with that club in 2021. Gary did not field a team in 2020 and Thurston went with the indy Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and Winnipeg Goldeyes.

University of Cincinnati graduate Trisha Thurston works for Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati.

Dan Thurston was an assistant baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019 and 2020. He is now head coach at Southwestern High School in Hanover.
Dan Thurston is the head baseball coach at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., and a regional scout for SportsForce Baseball. He was head coach at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School 2009-11 and the formerly owned Long Toss Indiana LLC and Indiana Rawlings Tigers LLC.

Career path comes with adversity for Valparaiso U. assistant Winter

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Getting established as a college baseball coach can be a tough gig.

Just ask Kory Winter.

The Valparaiso (Ind.) University assistant is in his fifth season and the second as a full-time staffer. He was a volunteer his first three campaigns with the Crusaders.

“I did not collect a paycheck or have health insurance my first six or seven years of college baseball,” says Winter, who was on the staffs at Muskingum University (New Concord, Ohio) in 2013 and 2014 and Shippensburg (Pa.) University in 2015 before landing at Valpo. “You have to be willing to ride out the storm.”

While at Shippensburg and with his girl friend Dana in Cleveland, Winter stocked shelves 9 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Lowe’s before beginning his coaching day.

“I was working to coach,” says Winter.

In the summer of 2015, he moved to Cleveland and cleaned at chemical plants while sending out his baseball coaching resume.

Valpo head coach Brian Schmack posted a need for a volunteer with outfield knowledge. Winter was an outfielder and pitcher at Scioto High School in Dublin, Ohio, and at NCAA Division III Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio) and had experience instructing them as a head coach with the Ohio Elite travel organization as well as at D-III Muskingum and D-II Shippensburg and high school assistant stops at Dublin Coffman and Dublin Jerome.

“I didn’t think I’d have a chance to move into the Division I game,” says Winter. “I thank Coach Schmack for his willingness to open the resume and look at the cover letter.

“It’s been a life changer for me.”

Kory and Dana Winter have been married a little over two years and have house and a 14-month-old son named Kal.

Winter is now the recruiting coordinator and is in charge of hitters and outfielders.

“The head coach has so much on their plate with administrative stuff,” says Winter. “(Assistant) Casey Fletcher and I map out the game plan (for recruiting). What do we need to two or three years? How do they fit into our culture? We take Schmack’s vision and try to put that into practice.”

They are on the lookout for the under-recruited and tend to go after Midwestern players who understand what it means to play and practice in the cold and can relate to the coaches, who all hail from this part of the country.

Winter goes to see the recruits play and them stays in-contact by phone. It’s also his job to keep track of scholarships and determine what kind of value a student-athlete will bring to the private school.

“To make Valpo financially viable, they give athletic aid,” says Winter. “It’s much more affordable if you have good grades or test scores.

“It makes us more competitive in the recruiting process and more appealing to those families.”

That means a minimum 3.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and and ACT of 23 or better. Winter says the average on the baseball team is between 26 and 28, putting them above the 90 percentile.

“It’s nice about having smart kids,” says Winter. “They ask questions and process the game differently.”

As hitting coach, Winter works to get players to understand their strengths and weaknesses in the strike zone.

“We cater their approach to what they’re good at,” says Winter. “We use HitTrax data to build a case for why a guy should be looking middle-out or middle-in.”

For many, there is an adjustment in hitting at the college level.

“In high school, they might get multiple pitches to hit (per at-bat),” says Winter. “We want to get them to understand how they’re being pitched and when to be aggressive and when not to be. What is your plan?”

With the velocity at the D-I level, hitters must often anticipate the pitch out of the pitcher’s hand.

Hitters learn how to sit on pitches in certain counts. Winter says 2-0 should be a fastball, but they may see a 2-1 change-up or 3-2 curve ball.

Winter takes a very conservative approach to outfield play.

“We want to make the right play vs. the great one,” says Winter. “We want to hit every cut-off man. I don’t care if we have zero assists on the season.”

By missing the cut-off, the defense surrenders extra bases.

“Get the ball to the infielders as quickly and accurately as possible,” says Winter. “The right play makes the different to winning and losing ball games.”

To get outfielders reps, the Crusaders have braved the northwest Indiana cold and taken to the Brown Field football turf.

“We get outside whenever we possibly can,” says Winter. “We were out there in the snow. It’s not ideal.

“We don’t complain about it. That’s just the way it is.”

Valpo (1-2) opened the season Saturday, Feb. 15 at Western Kentucky. That was the first time the Crusaders saw live pitching outside. The Crusaders are at Louisville Friday through Sunday, Feb. 21-23. The first scheduled home game at Emory G. Bauer Field March 24 against Ball State. The first Missouri Valley Conference series is March 27-29 against Dallas Baptist at VU.

Winter graduated from Scioto in 2006. He played for Irish head coach Phil Callaghan, an Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee in 2008.

“He ran an extremely tight ship,” says Winter of Callaghan. “There was a certain standard that every player was held to. We had to sprint on and off the field. We’d even sprint from the bus to the dugout.

“They were small things that may sound crazy. But we’d really buy into the identity of the team and playing ‘the right way.’ That was the mentality and culture. I’m trying to implement that myself (as a coach).”

Winter played four seasons at Wittenberg, where Jay Lewis was the Tigers head coach and Rick White was the pitching coach.

“(Lewis) was an extremely good guy,” says Winter. “Now that I’m coaching college baseball, I look back and remember he was always at the field, mowing the lawn or throwing batting practice. It was total immersion. I really appreciated his work ethic and sweat equity.”

After receiving a degree in English and education from Wittenberg in 2010, Winter taught for a year at Groveport Madison High School and coached with 2004 OHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Tim Saunders at Dublin Coffman in 2011 and Chris Huesman at Dublin Jerome in 2012. In the summers of 2011, 2012 and 2013, Winter coached high schoolers for the Ohio Elite.

By this point, he decided he wanted to be college baseball coach rather than a teacher and hooked on as a graduate assistant at Muskingum on the staff of Muskies head coach Gregg Thompson.

“Coach T was very intense in a good way,” says Winter. “I had never coached under a guy who was just so passionate about winning.”

If Muskingum had a game at noon, Thompson was at the field several hours before that, getting things ready.

“It was a great learning experience for me,” says Winter, who is often on the job by 7 a.m. “You give 100 percent to whatever you’re doing.”

Matt Jones was the head coach at Shippensburg when Winter was with the Raiders and really paying his dues.

“I had to work my way trudging through the mud,” says Winter. “It’s the necessary evil of it.

“It builds some character when you work though some personal adversity.”

Valparaiso Crusaders @ Oklahoma Sooners
February 25, 2018 
Oklahoma defeated Valparaiso 3-2 (10)

Valparaiso (Ind.) University baseball assistant coach Kory Winter (right) talks with head coach Brian Schmack and other Crusaders coaches during the 2019 season. Winter is in his fifth season with Valpo in 2020. (Valparaiso University Photo)

Valparaiso Crusaders @ Oklahoma Sooners
February 25, 2018 
Oklahoma defeated Valparaiso 3-2 (10)Valparaiso (Ind.) University baseball assistant coach Kory Winter was an volunteer his first three seasons and is now in his fifth with the Crusaders overall. The Ohio native is the recruiting coordinator and leads hitters and outfielders. (Valparaiso University Photo)

Lefty Thurston competing with independent Gary SouthShore RailCats

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For the third straight game, Ryan Thurston took the mound for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and for the second time, he nailed down a victory.

The left-hander pitched in his 24th contest for the independent professional baseball team Tuesday, July 30 and set down the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the ninth inning at U.S. Steel Yard.

During his scoreless frame, Thurston yielded a single and ended it with a caught-looking strikeout in helping the RailCats to a 2019 season-high tying fourth straight win.

On Monday in Franklin, Wis., Thurston picked up his first pro save by recording the final two outs with no hits and two walks in a triumph against the Milwaukee Milkmen.

The Sunday game saw Thurston pitch an inning and give up two runs and three hits as visiting Gary topped Milwaukee.

These are situations that Thurston lives for. He’s been drawn to them since he was a kid playing baseball and basketball in southern Indiana.

“I love to compete,” says Thurston. “I may not have the best stuff.”

Thurston has two kinds of fastballs — a four-seamer and two-seamer — plus a change-up, curveball and slider.

“I’d like to think my ball moves,” says Thurston, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder. “(My fastball is) 85-89 (mph), depending what I want to do with the ball — sink it or go up in the zone.

“I’ve tried to develop more as I’ve gotten older. You have to have fastball command. You’ve got to be ready everyday. You need to throw every pitch in every count.

“If it’s 2-0 and it’s their best hitter, you may not still throw fastball. It might be a change-up or curveball away. It’s more of a thinking game.

“I have the same fastball and same slider I had in college, I just think a little more. I adapt a little more as the game goes on.”

Dan Thurston, Ryan’s father and the former Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School head coach, has long been emphasizing mental toughness to his youngest son (Former Madison police chief Dan and Madison Middle School math teacher Jackie Thurston have Trey, Ryan and Trisha).

“You’ve got to keep a level head,” says Ryan. “Baseball’s a game of failure and you have to deal with failure.

“It’s about being mentally-prepared and mentally-ready.”

Ryan Thurston played his earliest organized baseball at the youth league in Madison and then travel baseball with the Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits, coached by Jeff Montgomery. In his 16U and 17U summers, he played for the Cincy Flames.

Thurston’s coach at Western Kentucky University was John Pawlowski.

“He pitched in the big leagues (with the 1987 and 1988 Chicago White Sox),” says Thurston of Pawlowski. “He really knew his stuff.

“He taught me a lot about different pitches and when to throw them and being the the best I can be.”

Thurston graduated from Madison Consolidated in 2014 and Western Kentucky in 2017 with a graduate school year at WKU in 2018 (he played for the Hilltoppers in parts of five seasons and earned a financial management degree).

At Madison, he won four baseball letters at Madison, earning all-state honorable mention as a senior. He was all-conference and team MVP three times. He also garnered three letters in basketball.

At Western Kentucky, he pitched in 66 games (52 as a starter — 14 in each of his final three seasons) with 13 wins, 299 strikeouts (second in program history) and 174 walks in 306 2/3 innings (third in WKU annals).

As a senior, the lefty pitched a career-high 80 2/3 innings while allowing a career-low 15 extra-base hits. He finished the season with a 4.24 ERA, although that mark stood at 3.08 prior to his final two starts. He was the only pitcher in Conference USA to secure wins over both Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.

Thurston signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and pitched in 13 games (nine in relief) in 2018 before being released.

The 24-year-old southpaw signed with the American Association’s Chicago Dogs and pitched two games with that franchise before Gary claimed him off waivers.

With the RailCats, a team he joined May 26, Thurston is 2-0 with a 2.58 earned run average. In 35 1/3 innings, he has 33 strikeouts and 16 walks.

RYANTHURSTONGARY19

Ryan Thurston, a 2013 Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School graduate who pitched at Western Kentucky University from 2014-18 and holds a financial management degree from that school, is now a relief pitcher for the independent Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Mercer makes relationships, mental skills priority for Wright State Baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Embracing the importance of personal relationships and the process, Indiana native Jeff Mercer continues to enjoy baseball accomplishment in Ohio.

Mercer, a 2004 Franklin County High School graduate, is in his second season as head coach at NCAA Division I Wright State University in Dayton.

After leading WSU to a 38-21 mark in 2017, Mercer had the Raiders at 29-13 heading into a May 4-6 Horizon League series against the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Mercer served as an assistant to Rich Maloney at the University of Michigan (2011), Matt Myers at Western Kentucky University (2012-13) and Greg Lovelady at Wright State (2014-16) before taking over the reigns of the RaiderGang when Lovelady took the heading coaching job at the University of Central Florida.

As a power-hitting first baseman, Mercer played two seasons at the University of Dayton (2005, 2007) for head coach Tony Vittorio then two at Wright State (2008-09) for head coach Rob Cooper.

While playing for WSU, Mercer was a two-time all-Horizon League first-team selection at first base. In 2009, he was HL Player of the Year and a Collegiate Baseball Newspaper third-team All-American as he hit .357 with 26 doubles and 74 runs batted in.

As a Franklin Community Grizzly Cub, he learned from three coaches — Mark Pieper, father Jeff Mercer and Brian Luse.

Mercer, 32, credits Pieper for instilling an appreciation for relationships.

“That’s one thing I’ve tried to make a core value and staple of my coaching staff,” says Mercer, who counts Nate Metzger, Matt Talarico, Alex Sogard, mental skills development coordinator Diamyn Hall, director of operations Denton Sagerman and volunteer Jacob Burk among his Wright State assistants. “We have to have personal relationships with our players.

“If you want to bring out the best in them — physically, emotionally, academically and all those things — the core of that is the relationship where you can help them build and grow.”

Mercer, who earned an organizational leadership degree from Wright State in 2009, does not buy into the generation gap excuse.

“I am young — one of the younger (D-I) head coaches in the country,” says Mercer. “I take it a little bit personally when people talk about ‘kids these days.’ You take the time to develop a relationship, the generation of the kid you’re dealing with is no different.

“They need to know that you care. They need to know you’re invested.”

This trust allows Mercer and his staff to drive the Raiders.

“We’re hard on players,” says Mercer. “We push them. We have really high expectation levels.

“But if they knew you have their best interests at heart then they have no problem with that kind of tough love.”

The elder Jeff Mercer, who helped start the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization and is now assistant superintendent of Franklin Community Schools, passed along his affinity for structure and discipline to his son.

“Everything was always very methodical,” says Mercer. “There was always an organizational plan. I took from that the confidence you have in preparation.

“We recruit a very confident kind of kid. First and foremost that comes from him. There’s only so much confidence we can give somebody. The confidence that comes from preparation can only be earned. It can’t be bought. You can’t pay for it.

“It just comes with time. It made me more confident as a player and as a coach knowing how much time and work we put into it.”

Mercer notes that Wright State has enjoyed much success against highly-ranked opponents and in hostile environments.

“Guys are confident because they know they are prepared to play at that level,” says Mercer, whose team earned two 2018 road wins against No. 20 Louisiana and one triumph against vote-getter Sam Houston State. The Raiders play at No. 29 Louisville Tuesday, May 8.

Mercer says Luse blend qualities from Pieper and his father.

“We played loose and free for him,” says Mercer. “But he also had a feel for the structure and discipline of it. Consequently, we had a lot of success. We were a very good team.

“You learn something from everybody you come in contact with and I certainly learned a lot during my high school time.”

Vittorio, who grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Southport High School in 1984, brought toughness and discipline to his coaching.

“I knew that he cared,” says Mercer, who was a walk-on for the Flyers. “The relationship that I have with him now is really nice. He’s around a lot.”

While Mercer was at Dayton, another coach had a lasting impact on him.

“My relationship with hitting coach Cory Allen really shaped the way I view hitting from a mechanical aspect that I’ve carried forth to this day,” says Mercer. “It was the first time that anyone had discussed biomechanics, centrifugal force and different movements.

“It was an eye-opening experience and it drove me to be a much better player. I wasn’t a very talented player. Understanding a lot of those basics allowed me to have an advantage.”

After transferring to Wright State he formed a personal relationship with Cooper.

“At that point, there was nobody better in my career at making us all feel valued,” says Mercer. “I learned so much about that from him.

“He was the first person that introduced me to the mental game aspect.”

In the years since he played, Mercer has seen the field of mental skills training take off.

“It’s become an industry in and of itself,” says Mercer. “At the time, there was nobody talking about ‘don’t worry about the outcome, it’s the quality of the at-bat. It’s the process over the outcome.’ At the time it was very cutting edge and it was new information for me.

“I was a much better baseball player at Wright State than I was at Dayton

“It was directly attributed to the mental game and understanding that I couldn’t just play with reckless abandon when it came to my emotions. Physically, I could play very hard. But emotionally, there has to be some constraint.”

One of the keys is to know where place the emphasis.

“If I go through the process the right way and I work on things I’m supposed to work on and invest in things I’m supposed to invest in and I have the at-bat I’m supposed to have and putting a good swing on a good pitch, whatever happens from there is completely out of my hands,” says Mercer. “Once I did that I became a much better player.”

Mercer recruits plenty of football and wrestling athletes.

“Their mentality is I can work harder and harder,” says Mercer. “That’s not always effective in baseball.”

In his first season as head coach, he found the mental game to be a bit lacking and he thinks he knows the reason.

“When it comes from the head coach it can become a bit stale because I’m always talking and communicating with players,” says Mercer. “My voice is always heard.

“I like having a big coaching staff and having them deal with each player individually because it keeps things fresh. We need to have multi-faceted relationships.”

Then opportunity knocked.

Hall, who is from nearby Centerville, Ohio, had just ended his collegiate playing career and was looking to find his way in the mental skills field.

The decision was made to bring him on-board as the very first full-time mental skills coordinator in D-I baseball.

“We had a mutual need,” says Mercer of Hall. “He needed a place to begin his career. We needed someone who was a fresh face and had an ability to communicate with young people in an electric way, in an impassioned way. He has a magnetic personality.

“It’s been a beautiful union.”

Hall meets with players as a group and one-on-one, providing his knowledge and helping athletes reach their potential.

“We’re providing the players with the resources to be the best they can,” says Mercer. “It’s really about knowing yourself and what you need to be successful.”

Jeff and is one four boys born to Jeff and Pam Mercer. His mother teaches math at Whiteland Community High School.

Stephanie Mercer, Jeff’s wife, teaches sixth grade at Ankeney Middle School. The former Ohio Northern University athlete is also an assistant boys volleyball coach at Beavercreek (Ohio) High School.

Jeff and Stephanie are expecting their first child — a boy — in the fall.

12725 Matt Zircher, Baseball Portraits 11-26-13

Jeff Mercer, a 2004 Franklin Community High School graduate, is in his second season as head baseball coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. At 32, he is one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA Division I baseball. (Wright State Photo)