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Brains, brawn and Brown: Homza headed to Ivy League

Hands down the coolest thing to happen to teenage Anchorage baseball player Willy Homza was being invited to participate in an academic all-star game at the Arizona Fall Classic.

“That’s where all the good schools are watching and you only get in if you have good grades,” he told me.

This kid values good grades as much as base hits and it shows. Homza carries a 4.1 GPA into his senior year and he hit .400 in high school last year and was named all-conference at shortstop.

The switch-hitting, smooth-fielding 17-year-old played well in Arizona and immediately caught the interest of college coaches. He stands 6 feet and weighs 185 pounds.

“I expected D2 schools from the Northwest,” he said. “Then I started getting calls from the Ivy League. I don’t know how to describe it. It just felt so good to get offers from such awesome schools.”

Homza, of South High fame, picked Brown University over Dartmouth College and has already signed his National Letter of Intent to make him eligible to play NCAA D1 baseball in the fall of 2015.

“Willy is a great kid, a hard worker and his improvement over the last 18 months makes his future look bright,” Alaska Baseball Academy director Tony Wylie told me. “I believe he will be successful at Brown based on his work ethic and skill.”

Homza played for Wylie’s ABA that took a trip to the Arizona Fall Classic. It was there that Homza made his name, especially in the academic all-star game that was open only to high school players with a 3.5 GPA and 1,700 SAT score.

“I hope the message it sends is how work ethic in the classroom is equally important as work ethic on the field,” said Wylie, a member of the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau.

Homza visited the Brown campus located in Providence, Rhode Island, where he met the coaches and the players, and toured the college facilities. He’s already familiar with the East Coast as he has family in Connecticut and spends a month there every summer.

He said the Brown coaches told him that he would get an opportunity to earn a starting infield job as a freshman. It was an open competition.

“I like the sound of that,” Homza said. “I think I work pretty hard. I wouldn’t say I work hard at it because it’s my goal to keep advancing. I do it because I love it. I don’t even call it work. I think it’s so much fun to go to the cage and hit and take groundballs. I’m super happy I can keep playing.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Blue Mountain baseball taps into Mat-Su Valley player pipeline

Brad Baker came to Alaska for a coaching job, but he left with three baseball players from Colony High.

Baker was on the coaching staff for the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska Baseball League when local kid Jacob Butcher walked into his office and pitched himself like an episode of ‘Shark Tank.’

After that the coach watched Butcher play in an American Legion game and liked what he saw. He also liked a couple of his Wasilla Post 35 teammates, Jonathon Boyer and Ben Ross.

Now all three Alaskans are playing for Baker at Blue Mountain Community College in Oregon.

“We recruit a wide variety of players, but one thing I always look for is passion in baseball,” Baker told me. “Playing baseball in college is a grind and not always fun. Players can experience more failure in college than in high school because is more talent. It is important to have passionate players who will persevere through the tough times.”

All three Alaskans played well during fall ball and Baker said they should continue to contribute in the spring when it counts most.

Butcher, a sophomore, can pitch and play outfield. He hit .317 during the fall and had one of his team’s best strikeout-to-walk ratios on the mound. 

“Butcher is one of the hardest working kids I've ever coached. He is a great competitor and works hard at it,” Baker said. “He throws strikes and competes out there. In the outfield he covers a lot of ground and has a plus arm.

“Jacob had the potential to move on when he is done playing here.  He continued to get better every day.”

Boyer, a sophomore, can play outfield and pitch. The tall, lean right-hander throws in the upper 80s with great command and is expected to compete for a starting job.

“He has a lot of talent and should help us a lot,” Baker said. “As a hitter he has great power and can hit to all fields. He is a good athlete with a plus arm in the outfield.”

Boyer hit .300 in the fall and posted one of the team’s top slugging and on-base percentages.

Ross, a freshman, is a versatile player who can pitch, play first base and the outfield. He is part slugger, part speedster.

“Ben has great power from the plate,” Baker said. “He has the fasted exit speed of anyone in the program.”

He showed off that plus power in the fall with a tape-measure bomb.

“The longest home run I've seen at BMCC's field,” Baker said. “Ben has tremendous potential.  He could develop into an all-conference type of player.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Karnos signs with defending WAC champ Sacramento State

With his college choice behind him, Max Karnos of Anchorage can relax and just throw the baseball.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander earned that luxury after signing with Sacramento State during the NCAA early signing period.

He will still pitch his sophomore season at Western Nevada College, where he enjoyed a fabulous freshman campaign and was one of the JC team’s top pitchers.

“All the pressure is off,” Karnos told me. “I can just pitch like I always have and not really worry about which school I will sign with in the spring.”

The Alaska pitcher picked Sacramento State over Nevada, Central Florida, Oral Roberts and San Francisco.

Sacramento State won its first Western Athletic Conference championship last season, He will major in anthropology.

“I always hoped to make it to D1. Hopefully I’ll play one year and get drafted,” he said. “They have a good winning tradition. I want to go there and help them win another conference title and get them to the College World Series.”

Karnos, of South High fame, posted a 5-2 record and 3.91 ERA as a freshman at Western Nevada. He led the team with three complete games and 78.1 innings while ranking third with 61 strikeouts.

He credited WNC coach DJ Whittemore and staff for molding him into a more polished pitcher.

He was pretty good when he got to college. 

But he’s way better now.

“They changed my mindset. I’m thinking of the game way different and I think it helped my game a lot,” Karnos said. “I’m throwing harder and I think my breaking stuff is better. I’m excited for this season.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Astros pitching coach Brent Strom headlines upcoming clinic

Brent Strom has been a winner at every level, winning a College World Series title as a player with Southern Cal in 1970 and a World Series title as a coach with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011.

He also pitched five years in the bigs, throwing a complete game at old Yankee Stadium. This guy tossed 16 CGs in 75 career starts.

If he did that today they’d call him Adam Wainwright.

Strom is now the pitching coach for the Houston Astros, one of the youngest and most promising teams in the game.

And now Strom will be in Anchorage along with Houston Astros hitting instructor Jeff Albert for the fifth annual Professional Baseball Clinic, Nov. 7-8-9 at The Dome. The camp costs just $25 per kid.

The clinic is sponsored by the Alliance for Support of American Legion in Alaska and Alaska Airlines.

This is Alaska’s only opportunity to get one-on-one training from MLB coaches – Strom brings 40 years of experience while Albert was also with the St. Louis Cardinals organization when they won the World Series.

“Jeff is among the best hitting coaches in professional baseball,” Strom told me. “Both of us are solid mechanically in our concept and solid communications. Both of us are learners, continually looking for ways to help pitchers and hitters stay healthy and perform.” 

The Professional Baseball Clinic is sponsored by Alaska Airlines and the Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska.

Don’t strike out on this opportunity.

HITTING with Jeff Albert

Albert brings eight years of professional coaching experience. He believes the basic hitting principles are to learn the strike zone and develop an efficient swing.

“I’ll cover all aspects of hitting – plate discipline, swing mechanics, pitch recognition, practice drills,” he said. “My professional background helps because I see players of different ages and levels. Players learn and develop at different rates so working with a wide range of players requires flexibility and creativity in order to communicate effectively.”

No matter the level, confidence is vital.

“It’s good if young kids think they can hit,” he said. “Confidence is important, but so is the ability to listen and learn. We are in the business of player development and the best players are constantly growing and improving their skills.

PITCHING with Brent Strom

If you were going to teach your kid how to pitch, what is more important: velocity or control?

Most people say control.

That’s the wrong way to go,” Strom said.

He would know. He has made a living in professional baseball since 1972.

Strom is in town this weekend to talk about the grip-it-and-rip-it theory, among other things.

He also urges coaches to promote versatility over specialization.

“At a young age it is important to have a well-rounded teaching and playing model,” he said. “We don't know how a player’s ability will move forward, at what pace and in what direction. Much like we advocated playing other sports, young players should not specialize ... being able to compete at whatever you play or do will help one in ways not only on but off the field.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Western Nevada coach likes what he sees in Alaska pitchers

D.J. Whittemore isn’t involved with the oil business, but the Western Nevada College baseball coach has tapped into the Alaska pipeline to strike it rich.

First it was Juneau’s Dylan Baker, who has graduated to pro ball in 2012.

Then it was Anchorage’s Max Karnos, who anchored the pitching staff last season as a freshman.

Now newcomer Johny Meszaros of Anchorage has joined the team.

Karnos, of South High fame, is a valuable and versatile piece of the puzzle that developed into the team’s workhorse. He led Western Nevada with 75.1 innings pitched and three complete games to go along with a 5-2 record and 3.58 ERA.

“Max came to us a confident and polished pitcher that experienced a great deal of success at all levels of youth baseball,” Whittemore told me. “He was a strike thrower when he arrived on campus and we set off to work to improve the quality of his stuff. He worked hard and improved his velocity 3 to 5 mph, and also developed a breaking ball that was college average from almost non-existent at the start of the year.”

Karnos started 12 of his first 13 games before he was moved to the bullpen for the playoffs. When Western Nevada beat Salt Lake 5-0 to reach the Scenic West Athletic Conference finals, it was Karnos that closed it out with two shutout innings.

“Max is capable of pitching in any role – as is almost every pitcher,” Whittemore said. “Throwing quality pitches is the art of starting or relieving. The role of 'closer' doesn’t really exist in our program. We have relievers that generally pitch when the game is the most tense and at the most crucial moments.”

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound right-hander has a strong sinking fastball that helped him average nearly seven strikeouts per game.

“The chief difference between a starter versus a reliever is the ability of a reliever to erase inherited runners via the strikeout,” Whittemore said. “Starters need to be strike throwers that can keep their pitch count down and get outs without velocity.”

Meszaros, 19, did not play college baseball in 2014, although it was only a year ago that he was picked in the 39th round of the MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder righty is ripe with potential.

“Johny is a hard worker that has a clear goal in mind. He is educated in the art of pitching and has confidence as well,” Whittmore said. “His maturity as a student, person, and pitcher is growing each day and it will be fun to continue to watch his development.”

Meszaros, of Service High fame, has been limited since his arrival to Western Nevada because of some inflammation in his elbow.

“He needs to throw strikes to be successful. His fastball is good to great and comes out of his hand very easily and with some life. The key for him to be successful is command of the baseball,” Whittmore said. “He certainly has the breaking ball and the body of a professional pitcher.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

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2015 Baseball Events

Winter College Coaches Clinic
January 16-19, The Dome

Register Now!

USBA Spring Training
January & February, Sundays, The Dome

Current Standings

Alaska Legion AA American Division
Team Points League Overall
Wasilla Post 35 63 15-3 24-7
Service Post 28 57 13-5 20-8-1
y-Dimond Post 21 54 12-6 21-14
y-Juneau Post 25 51 11-7 21-13
x-South Post 4 48 10-8 19-14-1
Ketchikan Post 3 39 7-11 10-20
East Post 34 33 5-13 11-19
West Post 1 06 0-18 2-26


Alaska Legion AA National Division
Team Points League Overall
Chugiak Post 33 57 13-5 20-13
Eagle River 57 13-5 18-10
Kenai Post 20 54 12-6 17-12
Kodiak Post 17 48 10-8 14-14
y-Fairbanks Post 30 45 9-9 17-14
Bartlett Post 29 42 8-10 15-18-1
Fairbanks Post 11 32 5-13 11-20
Palmer Post 15 21 1-17 1-25-1


x-clinched Northwest Regional berth in Eugene [OR]

y-clinched NWCART berth in Anchorage

Calendar (print)