Tag Archives: Wrigley Field

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

TRAYFLETCHER

T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)

 

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IHSBCA All-Star alum Fox speaks from the heart

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Fox knows the honor of being chosen as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant.

Before he went on to play at the University of Michigan and 14 seasons in professional baseball — making his big league debut in 2007 with the Chicago Cubs — Fox played for the South in 2000 in Fort Wayne.

Fox, who is now retired as a player and living in Michigan, accepted an invitation from former Wolverines and current Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney to address the 2017 All-Stars and their families at a recognition banquet Friday, July 14.

A 1 p.m. doubleheader is slated for Saturday, July 15 with one wood-bat game at noon Sunday, July 16 at Ball State in Muncie.

Outlining the passion, persistence, perseverance and patience it took him to make it to baseball’s pinnacle and play five different positions with seven different MLB organizations plus stints in independent ball and in Mexico and Korea, the Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate told his story.

Fox, 34, first congratulated the Class of 2017 All-Stars.

“This is a great honor,” said Fox. “You may not know it now. But looking back on my career, these are some of the memories that I hold dear. It is a testament to your talent and a dedication to your craft. It’s awesome.”

Why did Maloney choose Fox to speak when the coach has had so many players with what many would call better resumes?

“I asked him why me?,” said Fox. “He chuckled like the answer was obvious — ‘You played. You were there.’ Who else was going to stand up here and talk about getting from here to where I am now?”

Deciding against a prepared speech, Fox spoke from the heart.

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t a superstar player,” said Fox, who was selected in the third round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs and signed by scout Stan Zielinski. “I was a role player my whole time in the big leagues (through 193 games, 489 at-bats, 20 home runs, 73 runs batted in with the Cubs, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles). These kids don’t want to be a role player. They want to be the best.”

Fox asked the people who know him best to list his best qualities and he compared them with his own self assessment and came up with those four P’s.

Playing with passion, persistence, perseverance and patience, Fox found a way to stay on the field. He related a story of playing in Triple-A with the Iowa Cubs. He came up as a catcher and was working out before a game as a third baseman when his manager came to him.

“‘Of all the players I ever managed or coached, you’ve got the most out of your ability,’” said Fox of the words he heard that day. “That’s probably the biggest compliment I ever got.”

The manager went on to say that Fox did not have the physical ability of some of his teammates, but he possessed something special and said: “You come out here and find ways to compete. You’re trying a different position not because you have to but because you want to. You’re trying to get better.”

Fox said he was not equipped to talk about being a superstar, but he could speak to the effort it takes to get the most out of his God-given talent.

“My nose was to the grindstone,” said Fox. “I was so concentrated on where I wanted to go that I never actually sat down and thought about what got me there.”

Fox and his closest friends and family agree that he has passion.

“I loved to play baseball and if you don’t love it, it’s not going to last long,” said Fox. “This game can chew you up and spit you out.”

The IHSBCA All-Star alum also encouraged the current All-Stars to enjoy baseball as a team game — something that often goes away when professionals are competing for jobs and playing time and looking out more for themselves than chasing victories.

“That’s why I enjoyed playing in Mexico and playing independent ball,” said Fox. “Guys were just out there playing games.

“There was a time in Triple-A that I hated the most. It didn’t even matter what team was on the other side of the field. It was a competition in your own dugout. That’s not baseball.

For Fox it was about enjoying the competition and seizing the opportunities.

“At the end of the day — even with all the business things — you go out and play,” said Fox. “No matter where it is. No matter what country you’re in. No matter what level you’re at. We get too caught up in where you play and not how you play.”

How about persistence and perseverance?

“Everyday in the major leagues, I was overmatched physically,” said Fox. “These guys were 5-star athletes. I had to find a way to compete. You’ve got to be persistent. Coach Maloney said to me, ‘You know what the second-most favorite thing about you was: You never took ‘no’ for an answer.’”

Fox got much of his MLB playing time on the days when a regular would ask off with a particularly tough pitcher going that day for the other team?

“If you name a tough left-handed pitchers between 2007 and 2011, I probably faced them,” said Fox. “(The regular) would come in and say, ‘CC Sabathia’s pitching today? I don’t feel so good.’”

“When I stepped in that box, I feel I had nothing to lose. They could be a Hall of Famer. What did I care? That’s what made me as good as I was. I just wanted to play.”

Fox also learned to be patient.

“It doesn’t happen on your time,” said Fox. “You can feel like you’re ready. You can feel like you deserve it and you see other people take your place. But you keep playing and you will get your chance.

“They pass guys over because they are too busy complaining (about being slighted).”

Fox reflected on his career and said it was not the numbers he put up but the times he spent with teammates and families and the places he got to see along the way.

“I encourage you to enjoy the journey,” said Fox to the All-Stars. “You don’t know where it’s going to take you. You don’t. You show up everyday, you play hard and you have fun doing it and the rest will take care of itself.

“I once had a friend tell me, ‘You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.’ He’s right. You have no idea where this game is going to take you. You have no idea where life is going to take you.”

To illustrate his point, Fox talked about being invited to big league spring training with the Cubs in 2007 and where it led him.

It was Lou Piniella’s first season as manager and Chicago’s top two catchers — Henry Blanco and Michael Barrett — were called away to the World Baseball Classic. Fox was with the big club, but spent his sweaty afternoons warming up pitchers in the bullpen.

“I knew I was getting sent back down. I knew I wasn’t making the team. But I got the experience. I knew what the scouting report was about me: Good hitter. Can’t play defense. It bothered me. I wanted (Pineilla) to see what I was or wasn’t capable of doing before he read it in a report that I didn’t agree with.”

When Barrett came back from the WBC, Fox was the lone player on the roster who had not logged an at-bat or a defensive inning.

Barrett encouraged Fox to say something to the coaching staff.

The Hoosier finally worked up the courage ask for a chance to show what he could do before going to minor league camp.

Fox got his wish. He would play at the end of an away game against the Royals.

Called to hurry from the bullpen, Fox scrambled to the dugout and to the plate and socked the second pitch he saw — a slider — for a double off the wall.

In the ninth, Fox belts a first-pitch home run to plate the decisive run in a Cubs victory.

The next day, the Milwaukee Brewers came to visit the Cubs. Fox started the game on bullpen duty. When called upon to hit late in the game, he pops another first-pitch homer.

“I’ve seen four pitches (in big league camp) and have two homers and a couple,” said Fox.

The next day, Cubs bench coach Alan Trammel told the team to “keep it close until Fox can hit.”

Fox again homers that day.

“I thought I was going to black out,” said Fox.

The next day against the San Francisco Giants, Fox was called in from he bullpen to play left field — for the first time in his life.

Sent back to the minors, Fox opened the season by playing in the outfield and made his debut July 19 in right field at Wrigley Field.

“It just goes to show you that you never know where this game is going to take you,” said Fox. “I played five different positions in the big leagues (right field, left field, catcher, first base, third base). For a guy who couldn’t use a glove, I thought that was pretty good.

“So don’t ever put yourself in a box or limit yourself. Somebody else may see a capability in you that you don’t see yourself.”

JAKEFOX

Jake Fox, shown with the independent Somerset Patriots, played 14 professional seasons and was a 2000 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant. (Somerset Patriots Photo)

Fort Wayne coach, toolmaker Dunno helps pitchers gain velocity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a kinetic chain reaction.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KINGOFTHEHILL

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

RICHDUNNO

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

 

Valparaiso artist Weinberg commemorates Cubs with painting

rbilogosmallBy STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jay Weinberg learned he had an artistic side when he was a little boy growing up in Knox.

“I was 8 and I made this sketch,” says Weinberg three decades later. “Someone asked, ‘did you do that?’ and I was hooked.”

Even before then, Weinberg got hooked on a certain baseball team. He couldn’t help it. Everyone in his family — it seemed — were Chicago Cubs fans.

Father Jerry, who now lives in North Judson, mother Mary Lorenz and stepfather Mary Lorenz, who reside in LaPorte, brother David Weinberg, who lives across the street from Wrigley Field in Chicago, and sister Michelle Downs, who calls Knox home, are all big supports of the Cubbies.

Jay recalls growing up looking with Cubs mural with players from the 1980’s, which probably helped fuel his love for art and the Chicago National League Ball Club.

When Jay moved to started attending Valparaiso High School, where he would graduate in 1997, he spent a lot of his time watching or listening to the Boys in Blue. He especially enjoyed listening to Ron Santo, color man to play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes.

“Ron Santo was always one of my favorites,” says Weinberg. “I’ll be the first to admit that after Ron died (in 2010 due to complications of bladder cancer and diabetes, two years before his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame), I lost a little bit of it.”

Weinberg never lost his love of creativity. He commuted from Valpo to the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He took the skills gained there to create works in many formats. He also made music with a band called The Energy Commission with songs ranging from pop to swing to hip hop. He’s also a personal trainer, marketer, videographer and entrepreneur (he’s the founder of the artunityapp).

“My thing is to creatively communicate whatever is on my mind or in my heart at the time,” says Weinberg. “I don’t have a specific style.”

He has done paintings of Santo for family members and a chance to raise funds for the Ron Santo Foundation.

When the Cubs snapped their 108-year drought and won the 2016 World Series, Weinberg had to commemorate the moment with a piece of art. He did a few and girlfriend Kelly Carey suggested they be listed on the Valparaiso Garage Sale Facebook page.

“Ten seconds after I posted, the first 10 spoken for,” Weinberg said. The post drew more than 500 comments from all over the globe. “It was really humbling experience for sure.”

Weinberg will never forget Game 7 of the World Series. While Kelly was asleep in the next room, Jay was in front of the TV and all kinds of nervous.

“I was jumping up and down and biting my nails,” says Weinberg.

Emotion really poured out a few days before Christmas when the family was gathered in the basement at his sister Michelle’s house. That’s when Jerry Weinberg got his copy of the Cubs painting, which he calls “Field of Dreams.” (“paint it and they will come.”)

Tears flowed while Jay captured the moment on his camera.

“I taught you well,” Jerry said to his son that December day.

After that, the video went viral and wound up on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Jay has also entered a contest to have his father be one of the World Series ring bearers on April 10 at Wrigley. That date happens to be Jerry’s 66th birthday.

“That’s serendipity,” says Jay Weinberg. “The stars are aligning.”

Weinberg will be selling and signing prints of that painting plus an embellished limited edition canvas from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18 at the South Bend Chocolate Cafe, 122 S. Michigan, South Bend.

jayweinbergcubsprint

One of the limited edition embellished canvas “Field of Dreams” paintings will be on sale by artist Jay Weinberg Saturday, Feb. 18 in South Bend. He will also sell and sign prints of the artwork.