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Vodenlich helps spread baseball goodwill

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Tom Miller
Monday, December 18, 2017

John Vodenlich likely knows how to say bunt in a half dozen languages.

He plans to add to that list.

Vodenlich, the UW-Whitewater baseball coach, has taken his expertise overseas each year since 2004.

As part of the European Baseball Coaches Association, the Wisconsin native spreads his knowledge and love of baseball.

Tom O’Connell, who coached baseball at Pulaski High School, recruited Vodenlich for the EBCA. Both are board members of the non-profit group.

The EBCA was formed when Major League Baseball dropped coaching education from its International Division.

“Most of the time it is coaching education,” Vodenlich said of the group’s overseas duties. “Sometimes it’s players’ camps. We try to develop interest in the game.”

Their efforts, along with thsoe of other European organizations, are working.

Max Kepler—his given name is Maximilian Kepler-Růzycki, but that might be too long for his jersey— plays for the Minnesota Twins. Kepler is from Germany and Vodenlich first met him as a 15-year-old in his native country.

“That’s a pretty cool thing,” Vodenlich said. “But once again, our goal is not to produce major leaguers, but our job is to spread interest in baseball and goodwill.”

Joe Maddon, the manager of the Chicago Cubs, has worked with Vodenlich and the EBCA. So has former Oakland A’s star Gene Tenace. Brent Strom, the pitching coach of the World Series champion Houston Astros is a consistent contributor to the clinics.

Working with coaches in foreign countries provides personal satisfaction for Vodenlich.

“We’re connecting with people of all (nationalities)),” Vodenlich said. “We’re going to do something in Hungary this (next) year, and I’m going to need an interpreter. That’s really neat.”

And that has branched to his Warhawks squad.

“This summer, we’re taking our teams’ fourth trip to Europe,” Vodenlich said. “That would not be possible without me being involved in this organization and making the connections I’ve made over the last 15 to 20 years.”

The UW-Whitewater players will need to hold onto their passports. Their overseas trip will take them through nine countries in two weeks.

They’ll land in Amsterdam, Holland, then travel to Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia and end their hardball journey in Budapest.

The trips, which the NCAA limits to once every three years, give Vodenlich’s players a time they always remember.

Some parents and school staff members have gone with the team, but Vodenlich has learned to limit the touring group as much as possible.

“Try getting 55 people seated at a table in a boutique little town in Europe,” Vodenlich said.

The EBCA raises about $30,000 a year to cover the speakers’ expenses. The host institutions cover lodging and food expenses.

“We solicit individuals to speak, and if we have money, we may give him a small speaking fee of a couple of hundred dollars,” Vodenlich said. “But when you get a guy like Joe Madden, whom I worked with in ’05, and some of those big-time people, that’s very small.”

Vodenlich and the EBCA are helping a group in the Ukraine build their first field. Vodenlich gushes that he receives photos from the group as they progress.

Baseball creates international bonds.

“The U.S. government should hire us,” Vodenlich said. “Everywhere we go—the people involved love American. They just love it.

“I mean, because they love baseball, right? You can’t love baseball and not love America. They may not always like our politics, and that’s why we have to get there and show them what we’re all about.”

Replacing nuclear treaties and walls with pitching matchups and hit-and-runs. Sounds good to me.

OTHER NOTES

Evansville High graduate Owen Schoenenberger finished his football career at Quincy (Illinois) University in grand fashion.

Schoenenberger caught two touchdown passes in the season finale against Missouri S&T.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound tight end finished the season with 24 catches and 298 yards and those two scoring receptions.

For his career, Schoenenberger had 95 receptions with 1,255 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Whitewater High graduate Brooke Trewyn became only the 16th player in UW-Whitewater women’s basketball program to score 1,000 points in their career.

Trewyn passed that grand mark in a nonconference victory last Tuesday against the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

Trewyn, a 5-foot-9 senior guard, now ranks 15th in the Warhawks’ career scoring list.

Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette. Email him at tmiller@gazettextra.com



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