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Schreiber looks for Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons to be in ‘overachieve mode’

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Purdue Fort Wayne head baseball Doug Schreiber has been defining the culture for his Mastodons.

With the help of PFW assistants Brent McNeil, Ken Jones and Gordon Cardenas, attitude will be at the forefront.

“We’re going to have to be in overachieve mode somewhat,” says Schreiber, who was hired at PFW in July 2019. “We’re going to be looking at players to play a little bit above their skill level.

“To be able to overachieve, you have to have the intangibles. You have to have the proper attitude and outlook. We’re recruiting attitude and that’s going to be a big focus.

“We want to make sure guys understand that having a positive attitude, a maturity level and a passion to play is the foundation of the program with respect, work ethic and trust being some of the cornerstones of what we’re trying to build.”

Schreiber says he makes few guarantees to his players. He doesn’t promise them he’ll add 10 mph to their fastball, get them drafted or even give them a starting position.

“One of the things I think I can guarantee is that if you don’t have the right attitude and the right mindset, you definitely aren’t going to overachieve and play above your skill set,” says Schreiber. “You are probably going to play below your skill set.”

A head coach for 20 seasons in West Lafayette, Ind., — 18 at Purdue University (1999-2016) and two at McCutcheon High School (20018-19), Schreiber knows that Purdue Fort Wayne may not be the biggest school with the very best facilities.

But the Mastodons are NCAA Division I and expect to be competitive at that level while playing home games at Mastodon Field and training in the strength & fitness area inside the Hilliard Gates Sports Center.

How does Schreiber and company recognize the intangibles during the recruiting process?

Stuff on the mound, bat speed and range in the field are fairly evident. It’s not as obvious with other attributes.

“It’s tough.” says Schreiber. “You do have to spend a little more time. In some of the recruiting opportunities, you just get a quick look.”

Because of NCAAA rules, coaches don’t get spend as an inordinate amount of time with the prospective student-athlete. That’s where they rely on the players’ coaches (high school, travel, junior college).

Schreiber said the vetting process also includes the answers that come from casual conversation.

The Mastodons staff has learned how to read body language. It’s something they pick up on when watching a recruit when they or their teammates are struggling and it’s something they can see in players on the roster.

“We can’t see what’s inside their head, their heart or their gut,” says Schreiber. “The best way you have at least a clue on what’s going on in there is their body language.

“It definitely is a red flag when you see some disrespect and those types of things.”

It’s important because there are only so many roster spots available (up to 35 with 11.7 scholarships at the D-I level) and coaches have to get it right.

“Within their baseball life, we’re going to have compassion for them as individuals with anything that’s going on in their life,” says Schreiber. “But we just don’t have time for them to feel sorry for themselves.

“It’s a tough enough game that if they start to feel sorry for themselves, that’s the beginning of a negative attitude. They’re going to start making excuses, blaming other people or not taking responsibility. We have to have student-athletes that are mature enough and coachable enough to be able to handle adversity and persevere through those types of things.”

Schreiber says human beings have negative thoughts. What are done with those are the key.

“Do you act out on them?,” says Schreiber. “Do you voice your negative opinion? There’s all kinds of things that can get you in trouble.

“We have to teach them how to channel those negative thoughts into some positive action and positive thoughts.”

Schreiber also puts stock in mental development. With that in mind, he will have his players in classroom settings taking part in open discussions on life skills.

Topics will include “a winning mentality vs. a whining mentality” plus leadership, team unity and much more.

Prior to taking over at Purdue, Schreiber served as an assistant at Ball State University (1991-92), Butler University (1993), the University of Notre Dame (1994) and Arizona State University (1995-98).

That’s why he values his experience at McCutcheon. When he went into coaching, he thought he would be at the high school level — something his father — 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber excelled at for 39 years at LaPorte (Ind.) High School.

“I had the opportunity to keep staying at Division I,” says Schreiber. “It  just kept working out.

“To (coach) at McCutcheon, where (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) Jake Burton had built the program up to such a high caliber was a great experience.”

Working with high school student-athletes, Schreiber learned about patience.

“I feel like I became a better coach by coaching younger players,” says Schreiber. “Those are the players we’re going to be recruiting now.

“Getting in-tune with how they communicate amongst each other and with coaches, parents and everything was an important piece of it, too.”

After his coaching tenure at Purdue, Schreiber went into an academic job at the school then got his real estate license, but never got into that field too heavily with his coaching position at McCutcheon.

I knew I wanted to continue to coach,” says McCutcheon. “I looked into few opportunities, but when this one (at Purdue Fort Wayne) came forward it was something I was very, very interested in and was very fortunate I got the opportunity to do it.”

“Staying in Indiana was important to my wife (McCutcheon guidance counselor Sarah) and I. We had visited and done some things in Fort Wayne. I’ve recruited over here.

“Fort Wayne is a great city. It’s got a lot of everything, but it still has the small Midwest town feel.”

The Schreiber have purchased a home in Fort Wayne, meaning the coach does not have the long commute he had when he first was hired.

“Other than that, it’s been smooth and thoroughly enjoyable,” says Schreiber of the transition. “Everything has been quality. I’ve got great support from our athletic director.”

Mastodons AD Kelley Hartley Hutton was head women’s volleyball coach for 15 seasons and 13 years as Senior Woman Administrator PFW. She was a four-year player at the University of Toledo.

“She understands the coach’s perspective,” says Schreiber. “We’re into having the best student-athlete experience possible. She gets it from both ends (coach and athlete).”

Staying in the state also allows Schreiber to keep his well-established network of high school and travel ball coaches. There’s also the junior colleges in the region.

This fall, recruiting has included plenty of looks at junior college players, who tend to be more mature physically and mentally.

“That’s not to say we’re not interested in high talent high school players as well,” says Schreiber. “We’re going to try to stay very strong in Indiana — players that have gone on to junior college and those from high schools.”

Ideally, most players will be on-campus for four or five years, giving time to mature and grow into leadership roles.

“There’s a always a little bit of a learning curve,” says Schreiber. “Ultimately, our base is going to be four-year players with a good mix of junior college players.”

Purdue Fort Wayne also participates in the Midwest Student Exchange Program, where students from several surrounding states get a break on out-of-state tuition. That allows Schreiber and company to take a little wider look while keeping Indiana as the recruiting base.

PFW is currently a member of the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). The Mastodons are joining the Horizon League in 2020-21. The league currently features Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, University of Illinois-Chicago, Wright State and Youngstown State.

Schreiber says geography is one factor for the switch.

“Student-athletes are missing a lot of class because of the distance,” says Schreiber. “We do create things with scheduling in the spring that allows them to minimize missed classes.”

That includes moving classes away from late in the day Thursday or altogether Friday and taking more online classes. On the road, there is quiet time for study on the bus and in the hotel. With some long road trips ending on Monday morning, a premium is placed on time and priority management.

“It’s going to benefit them from an academic standpoint,” says Schreiber of the move to the Horizon.

With Schreiber’s hiring, the Slicer quotient doubled for the Mastodons. Doug is a 1982 LaPorte High School graduate. Mastodons senior first baseman Travis Upp, son of current LaPorte head coach Scott Upp, got his diploma at LPHS in 2016.

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Doug Schreiber is the head baseball coach at Purdue University Fort Wayne (Ind.) (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Meyer uses many tools to assess Butler hitters

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Meyer coaches hitters at Butler University.

The NCAA Division I program trains and plays at Bulldog Park, which is less than eight miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Meyer uses auto racing metaphors when explaining the way he develops Dawgs hitters.

Like racing owners put their money in the car, baseball coaches are invested in the players.

Meyer says goal in player development is to make the athletes the best they can be within the framework of the team. Assessments are done to know the strengths of each player. One player might be known for his power and another his speed.

“We want to know the tools we’re working with,” says Meyer. who shared some developmental concepts at the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler. “It’s our responsibility to assesses and know what their strengths and weaknesses are and then to read the dashboard as to what’s going on with them. If it’s a mechanical problem, we go back to their movement screening. Maybe they’re mentally clouded.”

There’s schoolwork. On the baseball side, there’s personal instructors, high school and travel coaches and even family members putting in their two cents worth.

“There are a lot of people in these guys’ heads,” says Meyer. “It’s our job as coaches to de-clutter.

“We want to simplify and get the entire pit crew on the same page. We’re all invested to make these guys better. If it takes a call from me to (a given player’s) coach back home who he worked with all summer to get a better understanding of the things they worked on, that’s fine by me.”

Meyer says it’s important let players’ talents shine through and not try to change everything about them.

“You guys kept guys on your team for a reason,” says Meyer. “It’s OK to let them fail because then they’ll come crawling to us looking for help.

“Everybody is on the same page and there is a trust that is built into that.”

Certified by OnBase University — an educational organization dedicated to the study of how the human body functions in relation to baseball and softball — Meyer puts his hitters through a battery of tests to learn their movement patterns.

These tests determine an individual’s deficiencies and strengths.

“If I know how his body works, I can coach him better,” says Meyer. “I can give him exercises to improves his deficiency or I can coach around it.

Meyer is currently in the process of putting together individualized hitting plans based upon physical abilities and limitations.

Players also have their vision tested by Dr. Joe LaPlaca of Ares Elite Sports Vision.

“We all know how important eyes are to hitting a baseball,” says Meyer. “(A player) may not be able to pick up a breaking ball because his depth perception or convergence isn’t as good as some other guys.”

A test for power that correlates to exit velocity involves the scores from doing vertical jump, seated chest pass and a lying overhead medicine ball throw. Borrowed from golf, Meyer says this kind of testing is just coming to baseball.

Butler uses Blast Motion, Rapsodo and other devices to assess players.

“With technology, it forces us as coaches to think a little bit differently,” says Meyer. “We have to truly understand what each individual player needs.

“But if we don’t understand how their body moves, all this data doesn’t do us any good.”

The Bulldogs also go through a VARK assessment for athletes. This tells how they learn the best — Visual, Aural, Read/White or Kinesthetic.

“It’s important for us to know how these guys learn,” says Meyer. “(Player A) learns differently from (Player B) who learns differently from (Player C).”

Knowing this, gives coaches different avenues to reach players.

“With some guys it may be beneficial for us to just talk one-on-one,” says Meyer. “Some of them have to see a video. Some of them would rather read it.

“The more we can reach our players individually, the better chance they have to develop.”

Individual swing goals involve activating the kinetic chain as considering hip and spin activation as well as core stability, rotation and anti-rotation. The idea is to move efficiently.

Butler hitters go through a series of exercises and drills, including banded load, PVC series, fungo hit, tee work, front toss and live focus.

An example of a focus of the day would be the 3-plate drill (plates set up at varying distances from the mound of pitching machine) for rhythm and timing and a 2-plate off-speed drill for pitch recognition.

The offensive goal at Butler, which plays Illinois at Grand Park in Westfield at 5:05 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, is to become a team of run producers.

A formula gauge this production is total at-bats over runs scored plus runs batted in minus home runs. In 2019, Butler’s rate was 2.9.

Meyer says there must be selflessness up and down the lineup to help the team win.

Meyer is a volunteer assistant at Butler (the NCAA currently only allows for two paid assistants at the Division I level and will soon be voting on adding a third paid position).

The summer of 2016 is when Meyer joined head coach Dave Schrage’s staff at Butler. Before that Meyer was director of baseball operations for five seasons at Tulane University in New Orleans. He also coached at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and Otterbein (Ohio) College, where he was a three-year starter at second base. He is a native of North Royalton, Ohio.

Brian and Ashley Meyer have a son named Walker.

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Butler University hitting coach Brian Meyer (left) talks with Harrison Freed during the 2019 baseball season. (Butler University Photo)

BRIANMEYER1Brian Meyer is the hitting coach for the Butler University baseball program in Indianapolis. Meyer employs many tools help the Bulldogs. (Butler University Photo)

 

Batesville native Miller sees pitching change in half century of pro baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dyar Miller’s 51 years in professional baseball wrapped in 2018 as a pitching coach for the Triple-A Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies, an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

The Indiana native witnessed many changes to the game as a player, manager, coordinator and coach.

When Miller began his career as a unsigned free agent catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies organization out of Utah State University in 1968, there were no pitching coaches in the minors. He did not work with a coach dedicated to the art until he was in the big leagues.

Miller, who was born in Batesville and graduated from tiny New Point High School (there were 14 in his graduating class), was turned into a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. He first toed the rubber in a major league game with the Orioles on June 9, 1975. Earl Weaver was Baltimore’s manager. George Bamberger was the O’s pitching coach.

“The Orioles are the first organization to use a radar gun,” says Miller, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who pitched seven MLB seasons with Baltimore, the California Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. “We used to phone or fax the game report in. Now it’s on a computer.

“When I first signed, (minor league teams) had a manager and a trainers. Trainers took care of injuries.

“(Pitchers) talked among ourselves. Back then you repeated each league two or three times and you watched. We did not have video. We tried to learn from an opponent.”

At the end of his career, Miller was often in video sessions with his hurlers, breaking down TrackMan information.

“Sometimes the pitcher would beat me to my office, looking for the data,” says Miller. “The Astros mandated that we have cell phones or iPads — company-owned — for bullpen sessions. That was the (minor league pitching) coordinator’s call.”

As a coach, Miller encouraged his more-seasoned pitchers to pass information along to other hurlers.

“They’ll listen to their peers,” says Miller. “Just tell me what you’re telling them.

“In the big leagues, they still do it that way.”

From 1995-2012, Miller served in many roles with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, including pitching coach, roving minor league pitching instructor, minor league pitching coordinator and major league bullpen coach.

It was a standard rule for Cardinals starters to watch fellow starters do their side work and chime in with their observations.

Miller insisted that his pitchers always play catch with a purpose.

“I have to remind guys of that every time you throw a ball, throw to a target — maybe the left shoulder, right shoulder or chest,” says Miller. “Long toss was real big there for awhile.”

Each organization is a little bit different. But many have pitchers start at 60 feet and work their way out to 120 or more.

“Some do it up to 20 minutes on a certain day,” says Miller. “It’s more of a recovery thing. They get the lactic acid out of there.

“Moderation is the best thing. Some guys do too much long toss.”

Miller likens the minor leagues to a laboratory and development — rather than winning the pennant — is the focus.

“We experiment with things here and there,” says Miller. “(Players) develop something that suits them. We’re not cloning everybody.”

At the same time, organizations have specific throwing programs.

“It’s pretty strict,” says Miller. “The Astros don’t like you throwing sinkers unless you’re like Charlie Morton and have a real good one. They stress the change-up.

“There are drills and we give them options — things to work on — each day like inside throws and crow hops. It’s pretty hands-on now, but there’s still leeway to be individualistic.”

Miller says that the higher player climbs the minor league ladder, the more they know themselves and what works best.

the higher you go in the minor leagues,

“At the lower levels, they are watched like a hawk,” says Miller.

The diamond veteran has his pitchers look for external cues — visualizing throwing the ball outside the body and going for the outer or inner halves of the strike zone.

“It’s more effective than internal (cues),” says Miller. “Nowadays, the favorite saying is ‘recent studies show.’ We’ve got what been studied and been shown to work.”

Then there’s the matter of rhythm.

“That’s an external thing, too,” says Miller. “You want to find your tempo and rhythm and pound the strike zone.”

The idea is to get the synchronize with the other body parts.

“There should be no stress on the arm,” says Miller. “It’s coming through because your torso is rotating.

“Your arm just comes along for the ride.”

Like winding a spring or a top, the pitcher loads up then it all comes loose at once.

“That’s how you get the extra pop on the ball,” says Miller. “A lot of people have trouble getting the load or it will leak out.

“It takes time to figure all that out.”

It took time for Miller to gather all his pitching knowledge.

“I knew about 1/10th or less when I was pitching than I do now,” says Miller, 73.

He does know that he is busier now away from pro baseball than when he was in it. Miller turned down an offer from the Mets to finish the 2019 season as pitching coach at Triple-A Syracuse.

“It was tempting,” says Miller, who moved from Batesville to Indianapolis in 1997 to be closer to a major airport and now spends his days working around the house, catching up with family and friends or fishing at his place on Lake Monroe.

Dyar and wife Bertha are on their second marriages. Between them, they have six children and 14 grandchildren with one on the way.

His sons look forward to the annual Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Classic Oct. 4 in Jasper.

Miller still follows the game on television and was able to attend a Wright State-Indiana game in Bloomington, where he was able to catch up with IU director of player development Scott Rolen (who played for the Cardinals) and WSU head coach Alex Sogard (who pitched in the Houston system).

Another pupil in the Astros organization — right-hander Cy Sneed — made his major league debut June 27.

Former Houston farmhand Trent Thornton is now in the starting rotation for Toronto.

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Batesville, Ind., native Dyar Miller served in several capacities in the St. Louis Cardinals organization from 1995-2012. (St. Louis Cardinals Photo)

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Dyar Miller, an Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer, was in pro ball for 51 years — the last few as a pitching coach in the Houston Astros system. (Houston Astros Photo)

 

Indiana University’s Mercer shares guiding principles with IHSBCA all-stars

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer once walked in the same shoes as the young men participating in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Representing Franklin Community, Mercer traveled to Jasper in 2004 and went 0-for-2 at the plate with a strikeout and a groundout to the shortstop. He pitched twice and gave runs in both innings. He completed his innings by using the fake-to-third and throw-to-first move to twice pick off runners.

Mercer went on to become an All-American and conference player of the year at Wright State University and was later a head coach at WSU at 29.

“One weekend is not going to make your career,” said Mercer. The Indiana University head coach was the keynote speaker at the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series banquet Friday, June 21 at Hanover College.

The Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year in his first season leading the Hoosiers let those assembled know about why he came back to his home state.

“This place raised me,” said Mercer, who turns 34 on July 29. “You learn to love a place that loves you so much and invests in you so much.

“I wanted to coach in Indiana. It wasn’t about IU. It wasn’t about the university. It was about the people.”

Mercer encouraged the all-stars to be appreciative of the support they’ve received on their journey and the effort put into the festivities in Madison, Ind. Games are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23.

“I hope you say thanks and I hope you mean it,” said Mercer. “I hope you take a moment to give back because they’ve given so much to you.”

Mercer said the all-stars represent their families, coaches, community and state, just like he does.

“Make sure that your represent this place and these people that love you the way they deserve to be represented,” said Mercer.

The coach said society desperately needs men in leadership roles.

Mercer shared some guiding principles he’s learned along the way. He uses these with his IU players on a daily basis.

“I’ve made a life out of trying to help young men become men,” said Mercer. “They learn baseball along the way.

“As you move into the next part of your life, who you are is going to become so much more important than what you are. We’re not just a collection of tools. We’re not just big, fast and strong, but It’s the people we are.”

Mercer said he does his best to communicate these things that often have nothing to do with baseball.

“It has to do with who we are and the decisions we make,” said Mercer.

Mercer emphasized the importance of work.

“You can have anything in life if you’re willing to do the work.” said Mercer. “The problem is we don’t understand what a level of investment is.

“What are you willing to give to have what you want?”

Once success is achieved, it’s key to remember how you go there.

Mercer has been putting in 12 to 15 hours a day since his days as a graduate assistant.

“If you don’t, somebody else who wants what you go will take it away from you,” said Mercer. “We have to grow and push our limits. But we can not stop working.

“Work must become the currency of your lifestyle. Not regret. Regret is a terrible lifestyle.

“It’s a terrible thing to look back and say, ‘what if?’”

“What’s valuable to you? What’s valuable to me in my personal life at Indiana is work. I respect work. Talent is God-given. You can’t control that.”

In his climb up the coaching ladder, Mercer decided he would be the best he could at ordering sandwiches and washing laundry.

It’s all about the decisions that are made.

“Do we make good decisions everyday?,” said Mercer. “If we’re able to take responsibility for the decisions that we make and we’re to live with integrity and it’s the work that we put in, we’re going to have an opportunity to continue to have success.”

There is also standard to live by.

Mercer told the teenagers in front of him that it will be easy as they enter the next phase of their lives to get away from the people that hold them accountable.

“I’m OK with making decisions that the people who raised me wouldn’t be OK with me making,” said Mercer. “There’s never a right time to do the wrong thing. There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.

“Live with integrity and honesty and surround yourself with people who are doing the same.”

People become a product of your environment.

“In my line of work, I have difficult conversations with players and coaches all the time,” said Mercer. They’re not fun.”

Those talks revolve around two pieces — the person and the player.

“If I’m completely honest, somebody may not like me in that moment,” said Mercer. “But they’ll respect me in the long run.”

Mercer encouraged everyone, including the all-stars, to value the process over the outcome.

“Every complex problem can be reverse-engineered to its most basic process and reassembled slowly, excelling at each phase,” said Mercer. “You can break it down and have success piece by piece.

“You’ve got to find a way at becoming world class at solving basic problems without becoming emotionally attached to the outcome.”

Mercer is in charge of IU’s hitters and lets them know that the outcome is uncontrollable.

On Friday, they made get into a good hitter’s count, make solid contact and find the gap for three hits including two doubles and two runs batted in. They are seen as a hero.

On Saturday, they take the same approach and the center fielder makes three diving catches to take away hits.

“Now I’m a bum and can’t play?,” said Mercer. “I control what I can control and that’s it. It’s the hardest thing to communicate to young people. Your best is your best. The outcome in your life is uncontrollable.

“Stop being obsessed with winning and be obsessed with the details.”

Understand the difference between complicated and difficult is key.

“Complicated is something that’s hard to grasp at first, but if you invest time into it and break it into manageable pieces, you can understand it rather easily,” said Mercer. “Are you willing to invest the time and energy to solve a complicated problem?”

If something is difficult, it will be hard no matter how process-based a person may be. It’s difficult to hit a 97 mph fastball.

Mercer said it is important to go through life and baseball with an unwavering strength of conviction.

“You have to have a belief in your process of work,” said Mercer. “If you invest yourself completely in the process, you have confidence in what you’ve done.

“You control your life. Your life doesn’t control you.

“I do the best that I can do everyday. I work as hard as I can for as long as I can and I’m as organized as I can (be). That’s all I can do. I don’t have any more to give.

“The adversity of your life will drive you and you should embrace it.”

All-star players and coaches were presented with certificates. Players got souvenirs from MDS Baseball Bats.

Jeffersonville’s Blayden McMahel was recognized for winning the home run derby held earlier in the day. He topped Warsaw’s Liam Patton in the finals.

Andrean’s Michael Doolin, not in attendance, was named 2019 IHSBCA Player of the Year.

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Jeff Mercer, head baseball coach at Indiana University, was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series banquet at Hanover (Ind.) College. (Indiana University Photo)

 

Fort Wayne Dwenger’s Garrett relishes fatherly roles 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Garrett relishes being a father and a father figure.

He and wife Sharon have 11 offspring “running around on the earth. Two lived briefly in the womb.

Emily (24), Dominic (23), Louis (21) and Grace (19) all attended Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School where Jason is pastoral minister and head coach for football and baseball.

Senior Michael (18), sophomore Cecilia (16) and freshman Simon (14) are current Dwenger students. Xavier (13), Lydia (10), Blaise (8) and Jude (4) are future Dwenger Saints.

A 1988 Dwenger graduate, Garrett saw a chance to impact many young lives and came back to his alma mater in 2012 after serving in several jobs and coaching his kids in youth sports.

“I’m constantly in a fatherly role,” says Garrett, who saw the Saints go 14-1 and win the 2018 IHSAA Class 4A state football championship in his first season in charge after six seasons as offensive coordinator and heads into his sixth season as head baseball coach this spring. “When I say these guys become like my sons it’s genuine.

“It’s something I love to do. I’ve been given some blessings and graces to be able to manage.”

How does he manage all his roles?

It’s a matter of balance.

“It comes back to my faith and believing what I do is something the Lord created me to do,” says Garrett. “I believe it’s my vocation. My work is an opportunity allows me to grow as a husband and father.

“My wife is a tremendous support for that.”

Garrett maintains a close relationship with his baseball coaches.

“We made an agreement to see this through,” says Garrett, who counts Steve Devine as assistant head coach and Todd Ellinger, Brad Brown, Mick Steele and Chad Kahlenbeck as assistants. Kahlenbeck is heading into his fourth season. The others are going into their sixth.

Devine is a former Indiana Tech head coach. He works with the varsity and JV squads with a concentration on pitching and base running. Fort Wayne Snider graduate Ellinger and Dwenger grad Brown both played baseball at Purdue University and are Dwenger football assistants.

In baseball, Ellinger works with both varsity and JV and serves as hitting coach. Brown spends most of his time with the varsity and works with catchers and the defense. Dwenger alum Steele is head JV coach and helps with fielding. Fort Wayne Concordia grad Kahlenbeck assists with the JV.

“In this role — as the head coach — I need to be the visionary and let guys coach,” says Garrett. “The time investment is not much different than I was used to. You’re managing and insuring the relationships and element of team are in place.”

The Saints play an aggressive brand of baseball. Dwenger stole 133 bases in his first season and have pilfered at least 100 bags each year since, using many of the principles of graduate Matt Talarico (who is assistant coach and player development director at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and the founder of StealBases.com).

“We’re aggressive,” says Garrett. “Some would say more of a small ball team — Get ‘em on. Get ‘em over.

Get ‘em in.”

Garrett and his players are well aware that the team that scores the most runs wins, so they will use the bunt, squeeze bunt, push bunt and slash to fuel their offense.

“It goes back to my years as a (Dwenger) player under coach Lance Hershberger,” says Garrett of the man who now heads up the baseball program at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. “Everybody on the team was expected to know how to bunt.

“We are certainly willing and able.”

By stealing home, Dwenger clinched the 2017 Summit Athletic Conference title. The SAC also includes Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead. Conference foes meet twice, either in a home-and-home series with day in-between or in a doubleheader.

The Saints are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Luers, Concordia, Garrett, Leo, New Haven and Columbia City. Dwenger has won 11 sectionals — the last in 2016.

Dwenger hitters take pride in taking pitches or getting plunked by them to get on base for scoring opportunities.

Garrett notes that the high school season goes by pretty quickly (batters are lucky if they get 100 at-bats) and there’s no time for a prolonged slump. Dwenger’s style usually helps it get around that offensive lull.

Garrett likes to have 30 to 32 players in the program, which allows players to get enough repetitions to continuing development.

The recent advent of pitcher-only players has opened up the roster a little bit.

“It creates opportunities for some guys,” says Garrett. “That’s been a really good thing for us. We’ve had guys have the chance to pitch in college.

“If you want to play baseball at the next level, you certainly will have that opportunity through our program.”

Since 2014, Dwenger has sent Dan Connolly (2015) to Hanover College, Noah Freimuth (2016) to the University of Saint Francis, Jack Harris (2016) to Saint Francis, Louis Garrett (2016) to Ave Maria University, Parker Noll (2016) to Wabash College, Dalton O’Boyle (2016) to St. Petersburg Junior College, Andrew Rolfsen (2016) to Anderson University, Eric Doyle (2018) to Ivy Tech Northeast, Eddie Morris (2018) to Ivy Tech, Michael Sundahl (2018) to Mount St. Joseph University and Jake Vanek (2018) to Heidelberg University. Grant Richardson played at Dwenger from 2015-16 and played his senior year at Fishers High School before going on to Indiana University. There are no current college commits for the Saints.

Dwenger graduates to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as pitchers include left-handers Andy Helmer (New York Yankees in 1996 and Cleveland Indians out of Purdue in 2000) and Terry Kieffer (Montreal Expos out of Indian Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa, in 1973 and St. Louis Cardinals out of Louisiana State University in 1974) and righty Ben Norton (Arizona Diamondbacks out of the University of Evansville in 2007). Norton is now the pitching coach at Butler University.

While it varies from year to year, Garrett estimates that 25 to 30 percent play both football and baseball at Dwenger on average. Of 92 football players last fall, 35 are in a winter sport and many will be three-sport athletes.

The multi-sport athlete is common at this institution.

“The culture, coaching and school, we encourage that very strongly,” says Garrett. “Why do we play sports? What’s the purpose of it? We see sports as a vehicle to grow in virtue. It’s a way they learn tremendous lessons in life. We want them to find as many competitive opportunities as possible.

Not only do they get the chance to stay healthy through engaging in physical activity, they get the chance to embrace and battle through adversity.

Dwenger football has a tradition of excellence and that translates to the baseball diamond.

Is there pressure?

“I believe there’s accountability to herald the great traditions in this school,” says Garrett. “It’s how we play, who we are and how we respect the opponent. The wins and losses take care of themselves.

“We have a deep spiritual component, a style of football that’s tough and gritty and are strong academically.

“Our motto is: Trust. Unity. Toughness. We genuinely care for each other.”

Dwenger shares Shoaff Park with Ivy Tech Northeast. Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation owns the facilities and the teams manage it. The relationship was initiated by former Dwenger head baseball coach Larry Windmiller.

Garrett played football for head coach Andy Johns at Dwenger then played four seasons of football for head coach Bill Reagan and two of baseball at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Heading the Pumas in baseball were Dennis Stitz in 1990 and Mike Moyzis in 1991.

After graduating SJC in 1992, Garrett went to Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., to get a masters in guidance and counseling and served a graduate assistantship in the school’s counseling department.

Garrett helped form Conquest Clubs and Programs, a leadership program for fathers and sons. He was executive director of Redeemer Radio in Fort Wayne and worked as a pastoral associate at Saint Mary’s in Decatur, Ind., before returning to Dwenger. He ran the St. Charles middle school program before joining the high school staff.

The main feeder schools for Dwenger (which has an enrollment of about 1,020 in Grades 9-12) includes St. Charles Borromeo, St. Jude, St. Vincent de Paul, Our Lady of Good Hope and Queen of Angels in Fort Wayne as well as St. Mary of the Assumption of Avila, Ind., and St. Joseph of Garrett, Ind.

FORTWAYNEBISHOPDWENGERSAINTS

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The Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger Saints baseball team celebrate another run crossing the plate.

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Father Jason and son Louis Garrett share a moment on the baseball field with the Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School Saints. Jason Garrett is also pastoral minister and head football coach at the school.

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The Garrett family includes father Jason, mother Sharon and children Emily, Dominic, Louis, Grace, Michael, Cecilia, Simon, Xavier, Lydia, Blaise and Jude.

Indiana’s Mercer talks about offensive progression

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer spoke at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis for the first time as head coach at Indiana University.

His presentation was “An 8-Week Offensive Progression.”

Mercer, a Franklin (Ind.) Community High School graduate, addressed the group a few times when he was coaching at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

“I was raised by many of the people in this room,” said Mercer. “We are in essence as young people as we grow, we are the product of our environment. We truly are. I’m the product of this environment.”

The coach emphasizes individual development at IU and does not attack anything without a plan.

“I’m a firm believer in systems and processes,” said Mercer. “When we got to Wright State we implemented a system on everything.

“From an offensive standpoint, there has to be an identity in the way we develop and coach our players.”

Mercer was proud to announce that 10 of the 14 everyday position players at Wright State the past three seasons are either in professional baseball or will be at the end of the coming season.

In his system, baseline testing is done at the beginning.

“I let a guy show me what he can do,” said Mercer. “We start start at the most basic concepts. We don’t want to leave guys behind.”

Mercer called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle the “most important book I’ve ever read.”

One of the concepts in the book: Whatever you’re practicing, chunk it up into the smallest, possible units.

“We’re going chunk it, repeat it and understand what we’re learning,” said Mercer. “We’re going chunk it and repeat it over and over.

“We need to chunk it and blend it and take it into the next phase very slowly.”

In Week 1, Mercer introduces drills for players to feel tempo, pace and sequence of their swing.

“I want to work up from the ground,” said Mercer. “I want the legs to work first, the hands to work second and the lower half to turn the barrel (of the bat).

“I don’t want the hands to pull the barrel across the body. I don’t want that disconnection.”

The base stealing system will be implemented in Week 1.

“We’ll be very uptempo, very aggressive,” says Mercer.

IU volunteer coach Casey Dykes comes from Virginia Military Institute, a program that was among the nation’s leaders in stolen bases (The Keydets swiped 95 in 117 attempts in 2018).

“We will run a lot of bases,” said Mercer. “From the very beginning, we don’t necessarily do conditioning, we do base running.

“If you want to run bases, you’ve got to run bases. If you want to run fast, you’ve got to sprint.”

Mercer wants his hitters to have a feel for the entire strike zone, including depth and width. To do this, they need to have constant feedback. This is done in Week 2 by using numbered plates (going from 1-6).

Movement and flexibility assessments are done.

“If guys are rigid in their hips, it’s going to be difficult for those guys to drive the ball the other way,” said Mercer. “It’s the way God made them. We have to work that into their approaches.”

Mercer said it is important for players to begin seeing fastballs of 90 mph off the machine in Week 2. He doesn’t want the first time they see them be at game time.

“The machine punishes guys who are long and steep,” said Mercer. “I’m not a big believer in abusing guys. I don’t want to hurt their ego. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I want them to punish the machine unless they’re doing something really wrong and the machine gets them.

“Find a velocity that works for you.”

Week 3 brings the team offense.

“It’s really important how we handle a stolen base during an at-bat if we’re going to be a team that steals bases,” said Mercer. “If you get a good jump and your batter is swinging every time you get a 1-0 count off a breaking ball, you’ve got a problem.

“We’re one offensive unit. We have to work together as such. Are identity has to come together.”

Mercer wants his players to know what to do in given situations and how to adjust if there is a chance in game plan.

Game approaches are emphasized in Week 4.

It’s all about getting an advantage on the man delivering the baseball.

“If Plan B was as good as Plan A, it would be Plan A. Every pitcher has a Plan A, even if it’s no good,” said Mercer. “Our job (as the offense) is to put together an approach and a system as a offensive unit that’s a virus that attacks  that guy and gets him off Plan A and on to Plan B. Nobody has Plan C.”

Mercer said if his team wants to put up a “crooked number” — two our more runs in an inning, it takes five quality at-bats in a row unless there is a two-run home run in the mix.

In Mercer’s system, ways to beat a pitcher include elevating the pitch count and “beat his brains in.”

“We’re going to hunt pitches early and knock him out in the first couple of innings,” said Mercer.

How about timing pitches?

“I always want to be on fastball timing and adjust down to breaking ball,” said Mercer. “Know the height of the pitch you’re going to face. Is it going to be a 12-to-6 curveball? We have to do our scouting reports and do our due diligence.

“If I’m on fastball timing, it has to cross the middle 8 to 10 inches of the plate. It’s a pitch I think I can drive (right on right or left on left). I’m going to chase the inside bottom of the ball with my eyes. I’m not going to change my swing.”

Mercer said repetition is the key in recognizing and hitting breaking balls. This can be done off the machines or live.

Running a program based on development, Mercer has always gone with weeks of individual work first then adds the team element in his time as a head coach.

In the progression, team practice begins in Week 5.

“We’re going to have a defensive emphasis,” said Mercer. “As good as you want to be offensively, it comes and it goes. If we can’t play defensively, we’re going to lose anyway.”

Mercer will begin increasing the degree of difficulty with pitch distances, speeds and locations.

“The hardest part for young hitters is they don’t have a sense of timing,” said Mercer. “They don’t know when to start. They don’t know how to be malleable in that regard.”

Mercer said knowing how to take batting practice is incredibly important. There is drill work followed by four or five rounds in the cage.

“We have to ramp up to be able to compete everyday,” said Mercer. “We structure it everyday so they get the same routine.”

Full-game setting with scouting reports and live scrimmages come in Week 6 of the progression.

Coach-pitch scrimmages help address weaknesses.

“All teams struggle with first and second and less than two outs,” said Mercer. “We’re going to get used to it.”

Wright State (3.12) was the No. 1 offense in the country scoring in the first three innings in 2018. The Raiders did this through buying into an approach based on a scouting report on the starting pitcher.

Tempo/rhythm drills are incorporated in Week 7.

Mercer said hitting needs to go at a quick pace.

“It’s unfair to ask a group of guys to do something they have not been explicitly prepared to do,” said Mercer. “We’re always growing and trying learn (as coaches). At the end of the day, these guys only get one career.”

In Week 8, coaches set game situations to practice weaknesses. Videotaping will reveal these things.

“It’s not about trying to show guys up, it’s about trying to get guys better,” said Mercer. “Our criticisms matter. We have to build them up.”

Mercer wants to be sure he prepares his players. So it goes back to repeating the message.

“I’m going to beat a dead horse,” said Mercer. “I’m going to be super redundant. You’re going to look at me and go, ‘would you please stop talking about that?’ I don’t care.

“My greatest fear as a coach is a guy looks at me from the batter’s box and they give me a look that tells me ‘you didn’t get me ready for this.’ That’s a terrible feeling as a coach.”

Mercer said that if his team is going to be able to consistently put up crooked numbers, hitters have to be able to hit with men on base.

“We have to be able to apply approaches and data and streamline,” said Mercer. “I’m an analytics guy. But only in the way it applies to winning baseball games. If we can’t be builders and confidence growers, we’re missing the boat in my opinion.”

Fall practice at the NCAA D-I level typically takes 12 to 13 weeks. After the eight-week progression, Mercer’s team will chunk it, repeat and learn it.

AN 8-WEEK OFFENSIVE PROGRESSION

Jeff Mercer, Indiana University

Week 1: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Video initial swings, swing measurements.

• Discuss basic movement patterns.

— Feet Crossover drill series, short bat hand load series.

• Base stealing system begins.

Week 2: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Introduce numbered plate.

— Short bat with numbered plate front toss.

• Outline specific drill work for personal swing issues.

• Introduce pitching matches.

— 78-80 mph from 52 feet, use as BP.

• Introduce small ball: bunt technique, hit/run, slash.

Week 3: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Role of team offense – handle stolen base during AB.

• Introduce 3 approaches and 2-strike approach.

• Breaking ball breakdown – off machines.

Week 4: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Game approaches – how they apply to situations and role in team offense.

• Breaking ball variances.

— Begin changing velo and variations.

• Introduce offensive signs.

Week 5: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Team practice begins.

— Early work offensive routines, team practice = defense.

• Increase difficulty as identity takes shape – machines 82-85 from 52 feet.

• How to take BP, rounds etc.

Week 6: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Live game scrimmages begin, still use coach pitch scrimmage to address weaknesses.

— Short scrimmages during week daily, long on weekends.

• Introduce scouting reports and how to use information.

Week 7: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Tempo/rhythm short drills.

— Drills focused on movement feel more than mechanical breakdown.

• Machine work variations.

– 3 plate fastballs, 2 plate breaking balls, off set machines, extended legs etc.

Week 8: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Set game situations to practice weaknesses.

— Base stealing emphasized; start every inning with runner on base.

• RBI situations are priority; preset situations often and emphasize approach.

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Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer talks about “An 8-Week Offensive Progression” at the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeff Mercer is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Indiana University in 2019 after achieving success at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. (Indiana University Photo)

 

 

ABCA smashes convention, membership records, keeps growing baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Imagine if you will 6,650 folks all in the same place for the purpose of learning, improving and networking.

If you were in Dallas Jan. 3-6 for the 75th annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, you don’t have to imagine. You experienced it.

The largest number of registrants ever gathered for the annual event Jan. 3-6, 2019 at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center to listen to speakers, attend the ABCA Trade Show (with about 300 vendors) and participate in award celebrations, committee meetings, hotel stove panel discussions while also catching up with old friends and making new ones.

The worlds of professional, college, high school and youth baseball all collided for the advancement of the game.

It was the third time in four years convention attendance has gone up.

The ABCA, which was founded in 1945, continues to grow. The organization estimates it will have more than 12,000 members by the end of 2019.

By comparison, the highest convention attendance four years ago was about 4,500 with membership around 6,000.

Can the organization keep growing?

“I’d say the sky’s the limit,” says Jeremy Sheetinger, ABCA’s College Division Liaison. “But it is about the experience of the coaches in attendance.

“We want to make sure we’re doing right by them.”

It’s a matter of logistics when putting on the world’s biggest baseball convention. There are countless consideration. Some of those are size of the venue and available seating and who will speak and when.

Sheetinger, a former assistant at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and the host of the ABCA Calls from the Clubhouse Podcast, says the addition to the full-time staff of Youth Liaison Andrew Bartman has helped at the grass roots level of the game.

“From our board on down, we’ve taken a more focused approach to serve our youth coaches,” says Sheetinger. “We’re very excited to see the influx of youth coaches. A second day of youth clinics (in Dallas) was well-received.”

Bartman is scheduled to be a speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic, which is scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 17-19 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

Indiana was well-presented from outgoing ABCA President and Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney to several coaches at various levels, Indianapolis Scecina High School coach Dave Gandolph has been an association member for four decades and attended many conventions.

Matt Talarico, a former Fort Wayne Dwenger High School and Manchester University player and now assistant coach/director or player development at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, presented on the big stage about base stealing.

An announcement is slated in the spring about the dates and locations of the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics, which run from September through December.

The 2020 ABCA Convention will be held Jan. 2-5, 2020 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. The event returns to the Music City for the seventh time. Registration opens Sept. 1. Room blocks will also open on that date for official ABCA Convention hotels.

The convention is slated for Washington, D.C., in 2021, Chicago in 2022, Nashville in 2023, Dallas in 2024, Washington, D.C. in 2025, Las Vegas in 2026 and Chicago in 2027.

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Indiana native Lance Lynn was represented at the trade show of the 2019 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas. (Steve Krah Photo)

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This is one of the many panel discussions held during the 2019 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas. (Steve Krah Photo)