Mike Monaco, who began his professional baseball broadcast career with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2015, is scheduled to be the play-by-plan man for his first ESPN-produced Major League Baseball broadcast. Monaco, a 2015 University of Notre Dame graduate in Film, Television and Theatre with concentration in TV, is to pair up with Doug Glanville and Tim Kurkjian on the San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks game at 9:40 p.m. EST on Thursday, July 1. It will be Monaco’s first game working with veterans Glanville and Kurkjian. “With those guys as accomplished as they are, it will be my job to feed off them,” says Monaco. “They’re the real stars of the show. “I think the world of them as baseball minds and broadcasters.” Working remotely from his Chicago home studio, Monaco will tell the audience what is happening for Giants-Diamondbacks at Chase Field. “It’s very different. That’s for sure,” says Monaco of not being on-site. “It’s a credit to ESPN that they’ve built this model. It’s amazing to see how they’re able to pull this off on such a large scale.” Monaco and his partners will have access to multiple camera angles and a statistician and work with a production crew. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Monaco had experience calling baseball remotely from the Big Ten Network offices in Chicago. “It’s not as much of a culture shock for me,” says Monaco, who has trained himself to watch various monitors to convey the action. The example he likes to cite is a ball hit into the right-center gap with a runner at second base. “The camera might be showing you the ball landing in the outfield,” says Monaco. “You train our eyes to find another camera that might be showing you the runner.” There’s also the judging fly balls off the bat, which is a skill even for in-person broadcasters. “It’s the more reps you do the more familiarized your mind and your eyes get,” says Monaco. While calling baseball or other sports, Monaco reminds himself that he is part of a team of commentators, graphics people etc., and that fans can see what’s happening on their sets and devices. “It’s on us to accentuate, inform and entertain,” says Monaco. “In radio, you have to describe every pitch and every swing. You paint a picture. “In baseball, you have time to break down swings and pitch sequences and tell stories. We make you care about a guy you’ve never heard of before, the stakes of a live competition and why the participants care so much and why the fans at home care so much.” Hired by ESPN in November 2019, Monaco has called college basketball and college baseball the most for the network with some lacrosse, volleyball and football. At the end of 2019, he filled in on New England Sports Network (NESN) for Boston Red Sox TV broadcasts, working with Jerry Remy and Baseball Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. He is scheduled to be pair with Ellis Burks for road series July 2-4 against the Oakland Athletics and July 5-7 against the Los Angeles Angels. “Growing up a Red Sox fan it’s been special to be a small part of that operation,” says Monaco, who once dressed up for Halloween as Nomar Garciaparra, counts Jason Varitek as his first autograph and graduated from Cohasset (Mass.) High School in 2011. “It’s an honor to fill the chair of (lead play-by-play man) Dave O’Brien.” Having watched and listened to Remy and Eckersley, Monaco came to appreciate their blending of hitting and pitching knowledge. He even knows the language of Eck. “Cheese” is an excellent fastball. “Educated cheese” is a well-located fastball. “Hair” is a fastball with late movement. “Moss” is what grows on a person’s head. “Salad” is stuff thrown by a finesse pitcher. “Going Bridge” is a home run. “Johnson” is an important home run. “I laugh as hard as anyone,” says Monaco of Eckisms. Monaco called Cape Cod Baseball League games in the summer of 2013 and 2014. He is grateful for the opportunity he had with the 2015 South Bend Cubs, where he worked with Chris Hagstrom-Jones. In 2016, he was on the air for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps where his regular partner was Mike Maahs and counts Broadcasting & Media Relations Manager John Nolan, Team President Mike Nutter and Vice President of Marketing & Promotions Michael Limmer among friends in baseball. Monaco did play-by play for Western Michigan University men’s and women’s basketball in 2015-16. His first BTN games came in the winter of 2017-18 and he moved to Chicago more than three years ago. He broadcast for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox for three seasons. Monaco’s resume also includes productions for the ACC Network and FOX Sports.
He has been introduced to a winning culture established by Fire head coach Adrian Dinkel and his staff.
“I didn’t know about Southeastern when I was getting recruited,” says Bridge, 22. “I just needed to find a school in Florida. I wanted to play down there.
I get here and find out they are a top five team in the country. They win 40-plus games every year. This team we have right year can go and compete with most (NCAA) D-I ’s.”
Bridge says the Fire’s first mission was to win the Sun Conference and then set its sights on the NAIA College World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
No. 2-ranked Southeastern (47-7) host the five-team NAIA Opening Round Lakeland Bracket. SEU’s first game is tonight (May 17) against the USC-Beaufort (S.C)-Fisher (Mass.) winner in Winter Haven.
The righty-swinging Bridge is a utility player. As he grew up, Bridge played all over the infield. In college, he’s been in the infield and the outfield. Last year at Southeastern, he was in center field. Now he’s in right field.
In 47 games (30 starts) this spring, Bridge is hitting .357 (45-of-126) with seven home runs, eight doubles, 33 runs batted in, 39 runs scored, 7-of-9 in stolen bases and a .986 OPS (.399 on-base percentage plus .587 slugging average).
“The confidence I have in the (batter’s) box is unmatched right now,” says Bridge. “I get in there and I’m like, ‘throw me something I can hit.’
“I’ve always been a pretty good hitter. I’ve known that I can hit. It’s always like a mental thing for me.”
A pinch-hit home run April 17 against Florida Memorial led to a start in SEU’s next game and built Bridge’s confidence.
“My mindset’s been a complete 180 (from the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021,” says Bridge, who is in his last year of college eligibility. “I stopped putting pressure on myself and starting playing the game like I did when I was a little kid. It’s fun. Enjoy it.”
In 2020 — a season that ended prematurely because of the COVID-19 pandemic — Bridge played in 26 games (21 starts) and hit .370 (27-of-73) with four homers, five doubles, 20 RBIs, 21 runs, 4-of-6 in stolen bases and a 1.056 OPS (.453 on-base percentage plus .603 slugging average).
“I’ve always focused on baseball,” says Bridge. “These degrees are definitely helping me further my knowledge in the business world. That’s what I want to do when I’m done with baseball.
“It’s also really helped with my leadership skills. I’m able to communicate better with people.”
Brian and Shanna Bridge have two children — daughter Hunter and son Carter. Dad works for Lafayette Masonry, Mom for State Farm Insurance and sister for Purdue University. Only Carter did not attend Purdue.
Bridge was at Western Michigan for the fall semester of his freshman year then transferred to Heartland, where he spent his freshman spring and all of his sophomore year.
With the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II member Hawks, he was able to build a brotherhood.
“I was able to build those relationships with those guys I knew absolutely nothing about,” says Bridge. “In my sophomore year (2018), we were the No. 2 team in the country. We were a really good team. That stemmed from the brotherhood that team had built.”
Bridge was recruited to Indiana by Chris Lemonis and Kyle Cheesebrough, but both coaches left for Mississippi State. Bridge got into three games with the 2019 Hoosiers and transferred to Southeastern.
Bridge was born and grew up in the West Lafayette area. His first travel ball team — the Tippecanoe Wolfpack — was started by his father.
The Michigan resident attended ECA all four years of high school.
“I absolutely loved it there,” says Ganger. “It was the perfect size for me.
“You get to know everybody in your class.”
Ganger attended the Elkhart Area Career Center as a junior (2017-18) and senior (2018-19) where Audio/Video Production instructor Warren Seegers taught camera operation and concepts like the “rule of thirds” and helped Ganger build the skills that allowed him to tell sports stories on WVPE HD3 88.1 FM and conduct interviews on Facebook Live.
“Mr. Seegers is awesome,” says Ganger. “Everything I learned over my two years I’m using now.”
Ganger got to interview South Bend (Ind.) Cubs President Joe Hart and Notre Dame men’s basketball associate head coach Rod Balanis.
He counts his Q&A with ND women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw after the 2018 national championship as a career highlight.
Before the interview began, McGraw was kind of standoffish and giving one-word answers. Then she began to respond to Ganger’s thoughtful questions.
“I started as camera operator then I told my boss I wanted to get into broadcasting and learn everything,” says Ganger, who got to host the on-field pregame show, work with replay on TV broadcasts and occasionally operate the Four Winds Field video board.
“It was fun getting to learn all different sides of the industry,” says Ganger. “I want to be not just a broadcaster, but be as well-rounded as I possibly can.
“You can’t always rely on other people. You need to know how to do everything yourself.”
In 2020-21, Ganger has done play-by-play or color commentary for Cardinals baseball, football, basketball and volleyball while also helping to create social media video content for Ball State Sports Link.
For his first Ball State Sports Link broadcast, Ganger was on the call for BSU’s football opener at Miami in Oxford, Ohio. With COVID-19 restrictions, it was a remote production. A monitor showed him the action which he conveyed to his audience.
“It was definitely different,” says Ganger. “Numbers on the screen is different than being at the game.
“I can’t be picky. Any opportunity I have to go for it.”
Ganger can’t say enough good things about Sports Link.
“It’s the best of the best for sports media anywhere,” says Ganger. “(Senior Director of Sports Production and Lecturer) Chris Taylor does literally anything he can to get us this opportunity.”
According to Ganger, keys for a good broadcast include knowing the players’ names.
“Memorize those the best you can,” says Ganger. “In basketball — when they’re running up and down the court — you have time to look down at your score chart.”
For a radio game, Ganger is sure to give time and score every 90 seconds.
“You have to be the listeners’ eyes,” says Ganger. “You want to have descriptive words for everything.”
It’s important to pinpoint the ball and it’s trajectory. The broadcaster tells his audience where it was hit and if it’s a line drive or a slow roller.
“We also build story lines,” says Ganger. “Why is this game important? What’s at stake? Throughout the game we recap what’s happened.”
The voice is to be used as an instrument.
“Be creative with ways to say things with voice inflection,” says Ganger. “You need a balance between sounding excited and not yelling all the time.
“I’m still learning. You can never be too good at broadcasting. It’s very competitive. You have to find ways to set yourself apart.”
Ganger used COVID quarantine time last summer to get in the reps that would help prepare for Sports Link broadcasts and to land an internship for the summer of 2021.
“I didn’t want to sit around,” says Ganger, who took old tapes of football, basketball and baseball games which he described by himself or with a friend and posted on YouTube. “I wanted to get better and be ready for games at Ball State and I wanted to get that internship.”
Ganger got it.
During the process of searching and interviewing, he encountered the Expedition League. It’s a 12-team summer collegiate circuit that plays a 64-game schedule beginning in late May.
“It’s been cool for Tyler and I to be he first-ever voices of the team,” says Ganger.
Not only will the duo get to enjoy the first with a team playing at 3 Legends Stadium (a facility that debuted in 2017 which has gone from a capacity of 470 to 1,300), Ganger and King will get to know a wide swath of territory.
As winter has turned to spring, the hottest college baseball programs in the state — based on current win streaks — are at Taylor, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Indianapolis and Indiana Wesleyan.
Among NAIA squads, there’s the Taylor Trojans (21-6) with 14 straight wins, IU Southeast Grenadiers (17-11) and Marian Knights (15-8) with eight each and Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats (21-8) with five. NCAA D-II’s UIndy Greyhounds (7-7) have six straight triumphs (including a 4-0 weekend series vs. Truman).
Among regulars, Conner Crawford (.357 with three home runs) paces the Taylor offense. Anderson High School graduate Joe Moran (5-2, 2.45 earned run average) is the Trojans’ top moundsman.
Brody Tanksley (.392 with seven homers) leads IU Southeast batters. Drew Hensley (4-2) is tops in pitching wins. Both are Bedford North Lawrence alums.
Taylor (4-0 vs. Mount Vernon Nazarene), IU Southeast (3-0 at Ohio Christian), Marian (2-0 vs. Spring Arbor), UIndy (4-0 vs. Truman) and Indiana Wesleyan (4-0 at Goshen) are all coming off weekend series wins as are NAIA members Oakland City (11-11) 3-0 vs. Rio Grande and NCAA D-II’s Purdue Northwest (6-3) 3-0 vs. Wisconsin Parkside.
NCAA D-I series victors included Indiana State (11-6) 3-1 at Alabama-Birmingham, Indiana (9-2) 2-1 vs. Purdue, Notre Dame (9-3) 2-1 vs. Duke, Ball State (9-8) 3-1 vs. Western Michigan, Evansville (9-10) 2-1 at Butler and Purdue Fort Wayne (7-8) 3-1 vs. Oakland.
Max Wright is hitting .339 with four homers for Indiana State. Geremy Guerrero (4-0, 1.14) has been the Sycamores’ top pitcher.
Evansville Memorial graduate Drew Ashley (.395) and Carmel alum Tommy Sommer (2-0, 1.40) are among those who have shined for Indiana.
The right-handed pitcher from Columbus, Ind., playing independent professional baseball has been dominant in his back of the bullpen role.
As the closer for the American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen, Gray goes into play today (Aug. 26) with a 2-0 record, 10 saves and a 0.00 earned run average. In 24 innings, he has yet to allow a run and has struck out 41 (15.375 per nine innings) and walked 10.
“For the most part, I try to stay with myself and pitch to my strengths,” says Gray. “I’ve been able to catch some breaks.
“It’s been fun so far.”
A 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, Gray delivers a fastball, slider and change-up from a three-quarter overarm slot. The slider breaks in on left-handed batters and away from righties and the “Vulcan” change sinks.
But it’s his four-seam fastball that’s been his out pitch. It travels 90 to 93 mph and — he learned while working out in the off-season with Greg Vogt of PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. — that it has an above-average spin rate.
The 2020 season marks Gray’s third in pro ball. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2018 out of Florida Gulf Coast University and played rookie-level and Low Class-A ball in the Rockies system in 2018 and 2019.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Association is operating with six teams — Milwaukee, Chicago Dogs, Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks, Saint Paul Saints, Sioux Falls Canaries and Winnipeg Goldeyes — playing a 60-game schedule. When the season began, Milwaukee was one of three hubs. Later on, Chicago and Saint Paul opened back up and began hosting games. Winnipeg has been playing mostly road games.
Milwaukee is about a five-hour trip from Columbus meaning his family has been able to see him play in-person.
“They’re huge baseball fans,” says Peyton of father Billy Gray and older brother Jordan Gray. “They get to live their baseball dream through me. They’ve traveled and supported me through all these years.
From 12 to 17, Peyton played travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. Billy was head coach of that team in the early years and Shelbyville’s Terry Kuhn filled that role in the later ones.
Bowling is a big deal in the Gray family. Billy owns Gray’s Pro Shop in Columbus Bowling Center. Jordan is the men’s bowling coach at Marian University in Indianapolis and his fiancee — Jerracah Heibel — is an associate head bowling coach at MU. Billy Gray is a Knights assistant.
Lisa Gray, wife of Billy and mother of Jordan and Peyton, works for Bartholemew County Youth Services Center.
Peyton Gray holds a Criminal Justice degree from Florida Gulf Coast and goes on ride-alongs with police officers during the baseball off-season. He says he sees himself going into some form of law enforcement in the future.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
“It was a pretty good timing situation,” says Jones, who was asked to join the staff of new Mastodons head coach Doug Schreiber in the same town where he teaches lessons. “He was looking for some guys and I wanted to get back into it.”
“Coach Decker treated you with a lot of respect and communicated very well,” says Jones. “He told you what he expected and you needed to do it. I still have a lot of his attitudes that I use today.”
“(Maloney) helped me get my start. He was really good on the infield. On the recruiting side, he was good as projecting what kids were going to be. He looked at their body type and athleticism. Mid-majors have to project some kids and then they develop over two or three years and become that top-level kid.”
Twice an academic All-American at WMU, where he earned a degree in aviation operations, he gained a master’s in sports administration at BSU in 1998.
The relationship at Purdue Fort Wayne brings together sons of baseball pioneers. Bill Jones and Ken Schreiber helped form the Indiana High School Baseball Association in 1971. The elder Jones was the organization’s executive director for many years. Schreiber won 1,010 games, seven state titles and was elected to 13 halls of fame. Jones passed away in 2015 and Schreiber in 2017.
“I think I’ve got my old dad in there,” says Jones of his coaching approach. “Every once in awhile you have to light a fire under a guy. You can’t be one-dimensional. You have to know your kid and know what works for them. You coach accordingly.
“When my dad coached you could be a little more tough, demanding and vocal. It was a different generation. You have to roll with the times a little bit and see how kids respond. It’s a different society. You have to understand how the kids tick.”
At PFW, Ken Jones has been working with hitters, catchers and outfielders.
“My strongest abilities lie with hitters,” says Jones, who came to find out that he shares a similar philosophy on that subject with Doug Schreiber. “We want low line drives. We want hitters to keep the barrel on the ball through the zone as long as possible.
“We want guys to focus gap to gap.”
Jones says his hitters sometimes ask questions about things like exit velocity and launch angle, but he has the Mastodons focusing on what happens once they strike the ball.
“We can still see what needs to be done without having all the bells and whistles,” says Jones, noting that PFW pitchers do some work with Rapsodo motion detection data. “In our first 15 games (before the 2020 season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic), it was refreshing to see we had some decent results without all the technology focus.”
As a player for his father at DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind., and for Decker at Western Michigan, Jones was a two-time all-Mid-American Conference catcher and was selected in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and played briefly in the San Diego Padres system.
His emphasis with Purdue Fort Wayne catchers has been on receiving, blocking and throwing.
“I’m learning through my son and other catching guys,” says Jones, whose son Hayden Jones, a lefty-swinging backstop who played at Carroll High School of Fort Wayne and sat out 2020 after transferring from Mississippi State University to Illinois State University. “I’m trying to gain some new knowledge.
“You never want to be satisfied with where you’re at and educate yourself on better ways to get things done. You soak in some information and put those things in your tool box. We do that as coaches and players. You figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”
McNeil is the pitching coach and organizes much of the recruiting. The coronavirus shutdown has made that process a little different.
“It’s phone calls,” says Jones. “We wan’t have kids on-campus. We are able to walk through campus with FaceTime.”
In some cases, a player might commit before ever coming to Fort Wayne.
Some summer collegiate baseball leagues have canceled their seasons and others are playing the waiting game.
“Guys will be scrambling (for places to play),” says Jones. “It will be a very fluid situation the whole summer for the college guys.”
Ken Jones is an assistant baseball coach at Purdue Fort Wayne. He is also senior lead instructor at the World Baseball Academy in the same Indiana city. He was an assistant at Western Michigan (1999-2004) and Ball State University (1997 and 1998). (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
While you’ll only see Adam Piotrowicz donning one cap — usually a brown one with a gold “W” — he essentially wears three.
A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Piotrowicz as associate head coach. He also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon.
“I help out more with scheduling, budget and things of that nature,” says Piotrowicz. “I have more administrative responsibility.”
Piotrowicz guides the Broncos’ offense. In 2019, WMU hit the most home runs (32) since the BBCOR Bat era in 2010 and posted the second highest batting average (.287) since 2012. The team also scored the most runs per game (6.0) since 2008 and racked up the most stolen bases (50) since 2013.
When the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic brought Western Michigan’s 2020 season to a close after 15 games, the Broncos had belted seven homers with a .261 average, 8.6 runs per contest and 35 stolen bases.
“I’m a big believer in having a great two-strike approach and competing in the box,” says Piotrowicz. “It’s about our daily routine — whatever it is.
“Each guy’s different.”
Some hitters are focused on power and others are looking to get the most out of their speed.
It’s the routine that keeps hitters sane.
“This game will drive guy’s crazy,” says Piotrowicz. “Just focus on the day-to-day process. It gets you over the 0-of-10 slumps and keeps you grounded during the 10-for-10.”
It’s helpful to Piotorowicz to know the style of learning that suits hitters best — Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic — in order to best communicate and assist them with their approach, mechanics etc., while competing at all times.
“We want to be a tough out,” says Piotrowicz. “We want to make other team earn all 27 outs.”
Piotrowicz is also aware that all players do not respond to the same coaching techniques based on their personality. Calling a player out in front of his teammates may not be appropriate for one while another will respond well.
“Our center fielder (Blake Dunn), I can yell at him,” says Piotrowicz of a junior from Saugatuck, Mich., who he expects to go high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. “He was a multi-sport athlete and football player. He needs that. He wants that hard coaching.”
The analogy that Piotrowicz favors is the mail. A package, whether sent first class air mail or standard third class will carry the same message and expectations regardless of delivery method.
Piotrowicz says Western’s recruiting territory is reflective of the 2020 WMU roster which features 19 players with hometowns in Michigan, nine from the Chicago area and three from Indiana high schools — junior Ryan Missal (Lowell), sophomore Bobby Dearing (Lafayette Harrison) and freshman Hayden Berg (Penn). The Broncos have received a commitment from Ryan Watt (Mishawaka).
Piotrowicz says the school has helped by making out-of-state tuition only $2,000 to $3,000 more than for in-state students.
Working with Gernon, Piotrowicz absorbs knowledge someone who has plenty of coaching experience. He was an assistant at Indiana University, helped Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) transition to NCAA Division I as assistant then head coach then was a Michigan State University assistant before his first season in charge in Kalamazoo in 2011.
In 2016, WMU won its first Mid-American Conference tournament. Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate Gernon has 210 victories as Broncos skipper, including 104 in the MAC.
“I couldn’t ask for a more supportive boss,” says Piotrowicz of Gernon. “He’s given me a lot of freedom and responsibility.
“(Woodson) gave me a ton of freedom and a lot of trust,” says Piotrowicz, who go to work with hitters, infielders, catchers and outfielders while splitting strength and conditioning with Schmack.
In 2012, Valpo was regular season and tournament champions in the Horizon League and competed in the NCAA Gary Regional, losing to Purdue and Kentucky.
In 2013, the Crusaders won the HL tournament and took part in the Indiana Regional, losing to Indiana and Austin Peay but not before knocking out Florida.
Piotrowicz got his college coaching start with two seasons at NCAA Division III Heidelberg University (2009-10) in Tiffin, Ohio, where they won Ohio Athletic Conference Conference and regular-season titles both seasons. The 2010 team won the Mideast Regional and competed in the D-III World Series in Grand Chute, Wis., beating Johns Hopkins and Wisconsin-Stevens Points and losing to eventual champion Illinois Wesleyan and Linfield.
Though he was a graduate assistant, he worked like a full-time coach and had his perceptions of what a coach is shaped while developing head coach Matt Palm’s Student Princes. He aided hitters and catchers and shared in recruiting.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Matt Palm,” says Piotrowicz.
After a season at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (now Bethel University), Piotorowicz finished his playing days at Manchester.
“(Zartman) was a good guy,” says Piotrowicz. “He was very big on team culture.
“(Siler) was amazing. He was very, very knowledgable guy and a down-to-earth person. He worked with catchers and made sure I was in shape.
“(Jimenez) also brought a ton of knowledge.”
Rick Espeset was and still in head baseball coach and athletic director at Manchester. Given his workload and Espeset’s young family, Piotrowicz and his teammates marveled at how organized he was.
“Practices were always detailed,” says Piotrowicz. “He did a good job of teaching guys how to the win the game.”
Points of emphasis included baserunning, defense and playing the game hard and fast.
“You do that and winning will take care of itself,” says Piotrowicz. “We called (Espeset) the ‘Silent Assassin.’ He was a psychology major with a very dry sense of humor. The mental side of the game, that’s where he was the strongest.”
Adam and Heather Piotrowicz, a former Manchester basketball player, have two sons — Hunter (4) and Elliot (1).
A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Adam Piotrowicz as associate head coach. The graduate of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon. (Western Michigan University Photo)
Tech concluded play in 2020 much sooner than planned because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
With a win against Viterbo March 11 in Georgia, the Warriors finished at 11-5.
Since then, the Tech team and coaching staff have been moving forward while social distancing.
“Everybody’s numb to how it happened,” says second-year assistant coach Brent Alwine of how the season was rolling and then came to a screeching halt. “We’ve got (players) doing workouts. We’re hoping a lot of guys get to play this summer.
“So much is unknown.”
What is known for Alwine is that he is not the same coach at 36 and married with three sons and with many different diamond experiences behind him than he was at 23 and just out of college.
“I used to think there was only one way to teach,” says Alwine, who works with infielders and hitters. “You learn to adapt to the personnel you have rather than philosophy that’s cut and dried.”
It has also become relational vs. transactional. It’s a point that has become clearer since Brent and Brandi Alwine, a physician’s assistant for Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, have had Beckett (7), Bode (5) and Brooks (8 months). All three have baseball ties to their names.
There are four reasons for Beckett — the sports card magazine, the ballplayer (Josh Beckett), the brand of boilers his father, Jim, sells, and the town in Massachusetts where he worked at a camp with former Indiana University head baseball coach Bob Morgan. The boy’s full name is Beckett Steven James Alwine. Brandi’s father Steve passed away in 2001. The other middle name to to honor Brent’s father, who has coached high school baseball at North Miami and Peru.
Bode’s middle name is Maddux as an homage for Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.
Brooks is a nod to former Western Michigan University catcher Brooks Beilke.
“I’m coaching someone’s kids,” says Alwine. “I want to win. But I would rather win and 10 years down the line have a relationship with the players I coached.”
Alwine joined head coach Kip McWilliams in Fort Wayne, Ind., having been an assistant to Billy Gernon at Western Michigan (2011 and 2012), Ed Servais at Creighton University (2009 and 2010) and Gernon at alma mater Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (2007 and 2008). He holds a bachelor’s degree from IPFW (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and a master’s degree from Indiana University.
“You learn a lot when you coach younger kids,” says Alwine. “You have to really explain things and get them to buy into it.”
An attribute that Alwine appreciates about McWilliams is that he values the opinions of his assistants.
“He lets his assistant coach,” says Alwine. “He doesn’t micro-manage and he looks for our input.
“I trust him. In today’s world, it’s hard to trust everybody.”
Alwine has a few points of emphasis with his infielders.
“I want them to be athletic and take good angles to the baseball,” says Alwine. “It starts with our throwing program. Throwing and catching is the main thing in baseball.”
He makes it a point to observe when his fielders are playing catch to see that they are getting their footwork right and taking it seriously.
“When the pressure’s on, a good throw is going to win you a game,” says Alwine, who has his infielders practicing double players during between-innings warm-ups.
Alwine observes how organized McWilliams is, something that is vital when you carry a roster of more than 60 players — varsity and developmental.
“You have to be organized to get everybody involved,” says Alwine. “Year 2 helped me see that a little better than Year 1.”
The Warriors make a point of hustling all the time — even the coaching staff runs on the field.
“That’s the way it should be,” says Alwine. “(On game day), it sets a tone for your own team and the team you’re getting ready to play.
“These guys are here for business.”
Alwine says having the season stopped is likely to make the players more appreciative of the opportunity to play when fall camp rolls around.
“Fall can be a tough time to motivate because there’s nothing on the line,” says Alwine. “(Players) should be excited. They had baseball taken away from them.”
Alwine says 10 of 14 seniors this spring have opted to come back for an extra year of eligibility granted by the NAIA.
With the Indiana Tech campus closed to all but essential workers, students have been finishing their spring term online.
“It’s new to a lot of these professors, too,” says Alwine. “Everybody’s going through the same thing. It’s brought a sense of community back.”
To stay connected the to the baseball community,Alwine says Tech coaches have regular Zoom meetings. These have been done by class and within the staff, which also includes Gordon Turner, Miguel Tucker and Marshall Oetting, and will also include positions, incoming freshmen and transfers.
Alwine was born in Peru, Ind., and grew up in Mexico, Ind. He played soccer, a little basketball and baseball North Miami Middle/High School. John Burrus was the head coach for basketball and baseball. Alwine was a shortstop on the diamond.
At IPFW, he played second base for Gernon.
“He does things the right way,” says Alwine of Gernon. “He demands a lot of his players. He care for his players, too.”
Alwine went to Creighton to be a volunteer coach. Within a month of arriving in Omaha, Neb., a paid assistant position opened up and he took it. There, he was in charge of outfielders and catchers.
“It made me a better coach,” says Alwine. “I had to learn those positions in detail to make players better.”
Servais displayed an attention to detail and stressed the fundamentals.
“That’s why Creighton — year in and year out — leads the country defensively.”
Servais, the uncle of former big league catcher Scott Servais, did not get too high or too low.
“He’s very level-headed,” says Alwine. “He thinks forward — next player, next pitch, next at-bat.”
The Bluejays skipper has been rewarded with 745 career victories.
More than 20 players that have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including two at Creighton that made it to the majors — San Franciso Giants first baseman Darin Ruf and Baltimore Orioles left-handed pitcher Ty Blach.
Alwine coached infielders and hitters at Western Michigan. He was in the fall of his second year with the Broncos when he got into a very bad car accident on I-94 near Kalamazoo, Mich.
Among the first requests he had was for a second opinion on the plastic surgeon.
“I am very, very fortunate to be alive,” says Alwine. “God was looking out for me that day. The biggest thing is the amount of people who prayed for me.
“I had very positive people around me who supported me and got me through it. I get to coach baseball and see my kids grow up.”
Brent Alwine (left) observes players during Indiana Tech’s 2019 NAIA World Series appearance. It was Alwine’s first season on the Warriors baseball coaching staff. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Brent Alwine (center) is in his second season as an assistant baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2020. He is a graduate of North Miami High School and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Dave Krider and wife Lois led the FCA chapter and helped plant that compassion in Mumma, who earned 11 athletic letters for the LaPorte Slicers (three in football and four each in basketball and baseball), where he graduated in 1999.
“My coaches were fantastic role models and leaders for me,” says Mumma.
After playing for Bob Schellinger on the gridiron, Joe Otis on the hardwood and Ken Schreiber and Scott Upp on the diamond, the Slicer lefty went on to play baseball at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., and Western Michigan University, where he met his future wife Rose (the Mummas now reside in the Detroit Metro town of Fraser, Mich., with their four children — Madelyn, 8, Bradley Jr., 7 Ellie, 3, and Max, 1).
He was in the Blue Jays system through 2006 then spent three seasons in independent professional baseball with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers and Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers.
When Mumma decided to get into the world of travel baseball and to cross-promote, he decided to call his group Baseball Utility Travel.
“I found some like-minded people,” says Mumma. “We can do this without some undesirable things about travel ball.
“Parents can really put a lot of pressure on their own kids.”
It’s about player development and human development.
Something as seemingly innocent as “Come on, Johnny, throw strikes!” can be a negative cue or phrase.
“Studies show that players don’t want you to say these things,” says Mumma. “We’re trying to help guide (parents) on what is proper to say.
“A clap is sometimes better than saying something.”
Baseball Utility Travel’s mission statement: “Development. Our mission statement could end right there. We are about developing your child into the best player he can possibly be at the age and skill level he is currently at. Striving for that on a year to year basis you will see the growth of your child both on the field and off the field. Nothing, including winning will ever trump the development of your child, period. All of this being done in a positive environment that promotes maximum growth.”
Mumma has crafted a comprehensive Code of Conduct for both players and parents and has them sign a copy.
In part, that code states that players are expected to be on time (which means being ready to go 15 minutes before any activity). If they are going to be late, they are expected to call or text their coach.
Another expectation: Spikes on, uniform on, belt on, hat straight, Shirt tucked in, pants not sagging.
“You can rock your hat backward at the mall, I do myself, but on the field it’ll be straight with no hair showing out the front,” says Mumma. “Take pride in how you look.”
Mumma notes that umpires are going to miss calls and players should get used to it. If you show-up an umpire on the field they will promptly be taken out.
“I don’t care if he blew the easiest call ever, we will play with class,” says Mumma. “When you fail, which you will, act like you’ve played the game before and you understand that failure is a big part of this game.
“If you decide to put on a show after you strike out or make an error a replacement will be sent in without hesitation. The same will take place if you hit a pop up and don’t run it out as hard as you can. We will sprint on and off the field as if we were running from the cops.”
Another lesson to be learned is responsibility. So players are expected to carry their own bag, bring their own drinks and equipment.
“Control the things you can control and this will be a great experience,” says Mumma. “Things players can control: Attitude, effort, preparation, hard work and dedication. Things they can’t: Umps, crappy fields, crappy weather, umps, umps, where you hit in the lineup, and much more. And umps.”
As for parents, they are expected to get their player to practice and games on time and communicate with the coach if they are going to be late.
Mumma also tells parents how to deal with game officials.
“Umpires won’t be great so please understand that,” says Mumma. “It is not your job to communicate with them, you will directly affect your son and our team if you take that matter into your own hands. We’re teaching our coaches how handle them with class, and how to get on them when necessary.”
There is a policy where parents can ask a manager or coach about playing time or the place in the batting order 24 hours after a competition. But they must be ready to hear something they might not want to hear.
Parents are asked to cheer and avoid negative cues. They are to stay away from the dugout unless it is absolutely necessary. They are not to approach a coach in the dugout, after a game or in the parking lot.
“Please wait until the next day to handle your issue,” says Mumma. “After games please tell your kids that you are proud of them and you enjoyed watching them play. Baseball will suck the life out of a growing child because it is a game of failure.
“They do not need to get into the car after the game and hear how they went 0-4 and made two errors. Our coaches will handle that part of it and very rarely will it be in the heat of competition or after. We will take care of those types of conversations in practice and training sessions, the correct avenue for learning.”
There are now about 150 players on 12 teams ages 9U to 18U that train and play based out of a facility shared with the Detroit Diamond Jaxx in Warren, Mich., a northern suburb of Detroit.
High school players participate in six tournaments during the summer, finishing by Aug. 1. The younger kids play in eight and are done by July 1.
“Kids need to be kids and have a summer,” says Mumma. “Rest time — physically and mentally — is important for them.”
The season generally begins when the weather breaks in April.
Baseball Utility Travel has won some trophies. But that’s not the important thing.
“It’s not a prestige thing for us,” says Mumma. “Our ratio of practice to games is 2:1.
“(Beginning in late October), we have 70-80 training sessions and 35-40 games.”
Mumma is one of the lead instructors on a staff of 17 — all being former college or professional players.
“We have no parent coaches,” says Mumma. “All our guys coach all the teams in the winter. We train in big groups.
“All of our coaches) has something to offer.”
Joe Small, a former assistant at Macomb Community College, has come aboard to coordinate defensive concepts and do administrative work.
When Mumma was with the Blue Jays, minor leaguers participated in Baseball 101 class room sessions.
That’s when Mumma realized how much could be taught about the game on a chalk board and has brought that to Baseball Utility Travel.
“In these non-competitive situations, kids learn so much better,” says Mumma. On the field — with so many other players and coaches around — some might have a tendency to “clam up.”
To get messages across to his players, Mumma and his staff have brought in many guest speakers — players, coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists and more.
While the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has players and coaches physically apart, Mumma wants his players to be ready when baseball resumes.
“We give them things to do at home,” says Mumma. “Throwing the ball is the best way to get your arm feeling good again. Your body wants the consistency of work.
“Make sure you’re throwing.”
Not just about balls and bats, Baseball Utility Travel is also a charitable organization. Mumma says the group annually spends $25,000 to $30,000 in the community. This is done through such deeds as delivering Thanksgiving meals, Christmas gifts or paying the rent for families who lost their home in a fire.
“I always wanted to do that,” says Mumma. “We have the power of numbers. But it’s just a helping hand.”
Baseball Utility Travel celebrates with (from left): Chuck Rinehart, Broc Riggs and Brad Mumma. Rinehart is the father-in-law of organization founder Mumma.
Brad Mumma talks to Baseball Utility Travel players via Zoom conference. The graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Western Michigan University founded the organization in the suburbs of Detroit. (Steve Krah Photo)
Fraser, Mich.’s Mumma family (from left): Max, Rose, Madelyn, Bradley Jr., Ellie and Brad. Baseball Utility Travel was founded by Brad Mumma as a way to lead player and human development.