Mishawaka Marian grad Rinard adding to his coaching responsibilities for Dixie State baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Exciting things are happening in Bobby Rinard’s baseball world.

Entering his fifth season as an assistant coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, Rinard is now a full-time coach and has added recruiting coordinator to his job description.

Dixie State is an NCAA Division II program and has nine fully-funded scholarships. Rinard is learning how to disperse scholarship money on a roster of about 35, taking into consideration things like the needs of the team and Title IV and other NCAA rules compliance.

At present, 47 percent is the most any one player is getting in terms of a full scholarship.

“There is really no such thing as a full-ride scholarship for a baseball player,” says Rinard. “We carry a fall roster of about 40, which matches our male-to-female student ratio.

“Some guys will be walk-ons and some will have the grades that won’t count toward the nine scholarships.

“The tricky part is that you don’t get a clean slate after each year.”

What the program has to work with is based on who leaves and who returns.

Rinard, a South Bend, Ind., native and 2007 Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School graduate whose father Jeff Rinard ran the Chasing A Dream training facility in Lakeville, Ind., says excitement is also in the air around St. George because Dixie State is exploring moving up to NCAA Division I with its athletic programs.

Information is being gathered through town hall meetings and consultants and a vote to decide is expected at the end of November.

“I hope we do go Division I,” says Rinard, who turned 30 on Nov. 9. “But it could go either way.”

NCAA Division I baseball can give 11.7 fully-funded scholarships and hire two full-time assistant coaches. There is a push to get a third full-timer.

At the D-II level, with a limited recruiting budget, Dixie State keeps to the southwest region and looks for players that fit their style of play.

Trailblazers head coach Chris Pfatenhauer, who has worked at the junior college and D-I levels, favors what Rinard calls the “West Coast” style of baseball. There is an emphasis on speed and athleticism. Batters are expected to be able to lay down a sacrifice or squeeze bunt in a crucial situation.

“We’ll put pressure on the defense,” says Rinard. “But we’re not all runts.”

There are also a few players on the roster with some power.

“We don’t talk about launch angle at all,” says Rinard. “Knowing exit velocity can help guys understand what kind of swing they should be taking to the baseball.

“We want to develop a head-high line drive swing. If you can build a repetitive swing like that, your exit velocity is going to be very good.”

Two major recruiting events that the staff ends are the Arizona Fall Classic in Peoria, Ariz., and Baseball Northwest events in Washington. It’s about a six-hour drive from St. George to the Phoenix area.

“We’re really, really selective with what events we go to,” says Rinard, noting that Las Vegas, Nevada, area is full of talent and is about a two-hour drive from St. George.

Dixie State baseball will be competing in a new conference in the spring of 2019. The Trailblazers were in the Pacific West Conference.

Besides Dixie State, the Pac West had eight baseball-playing schools in California (Academy of Art, Azusa Pacific, Biola, California Baptist, Concordia Irvine, Fresno Pacific, Holy Names and Point Loma Nazarene) and two in Hawaii (Hawaii Hilo and Hawaii Pacific) in 2018.

The Blazers were 25-25 overall and 21-19 in the Pac West.

Following the lead of the DSU football program, baseball is now in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

In addition to Dixie State, RMAC baseball features eight institutions in Colorado (Adams State, Colorado Christian, Colorado Mesa, Colorado State-Pueblo, Colorado School of Mines, Metropolitan State, Regis and Colorado Colorado Springs) and one in New Mexico (New Mexico Highlands).

Pfatenhauer saw the change coming, he wasted no time in purchasing heavy jackets. Adams State in Alamosa, Colo., is 7,543 feet above sea level.

Does the altitude effect pitching? Colorado Mesa had the best team earned run average in the RMAC in 2018 at 4.83. Adams State was last at 9.59.

Dixie State’s staff carried a 6.29 while competing in the Pac West and at 2,500-seat Bruce Hurst Field (former big league pitcher Bruce Hurst is a St. George native and a benefactor), where the fences are 12 feet high from the foul poles to the batter’s eye in center, which extends to 20 feet high. Dimensions are 330 down the lines and 390 to center.

St. George has an elevation of 2,860. Located in the southwestern part of Utah. At one time it was a cotton-growing region (thus the name of the school).

Rinard says the high desert climate is typical of Las Vegas, Nevada. The day-time highs this week (Nov. 11-17) have been in the high 50’s and low 60’s.

“I really don’t remember what it’s like to be cold,” says Rinard, who played two seasons as a righty-swinging outfielder at Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz. (2008 and 2009) and two at the University of Arizona (2010 and 2011) before a stint in professional baseball and a season as an undergraduate assistant at Arizona in 2014.

Rinard was selected in the 43rd round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets, but did not sign.

After his two seasons in NCAA Division I baseball with Arizona, he signed with the New York Yankees as a minor league free agent in 2011 and played one season a rookie-level Staten Island.

His independent ball stops came with the Frontier League’s Normal (Ill.) Cornbelters in in 2012 and United League’s Edinburg (Texas) Roadrunners in 2013.

Rinard also works with the Trailblazers’ outfielders and hitters and helps coordinate camps.

“I’m helping with everything,” says Rinard, who plans to join the staff Jan. 3-6 for the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas.

Immediate plans call for Rinard to come back to northern Indiana this weekend to be in the wedding of former Bethel College player and Concord High School baseball coach Walter Lehmann. Rinard and Lehmann played together in high school.

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Bobby Rinard (right) is an assistant baseball coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. Going into his fifth season with the Trailblazers in 2019, he added recruiting coordinator to his job description last summer. (Dixie State University Photo)

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Bobby Rinard, a Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School graduate who played at Yavapai College and the University of Arizona, is heading into his fifth season as an assistant baseball coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, in 2019. (Dixie State University Photo)

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Eye disease can’t stop Plymouth, Murray State grad Elliott

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brandon Elliott may not view the world the way he once did.

But the former standout ballplayer is not letting a rare eye disease keep him from living life to its fullest.

A three-sport athlete in the Plymouth (Ind.) High School Class of 2009 (he captained the football and baseball teams as a senior and also played basketball) who went on to play NCAA Division I baseball at Murray (Ky.) State University.

Brandon, the son of Todd Elliott and Julie and Dave Shook, was born in Munster, Ind., and played youth baseball in nearby Schererville before moving to Plymouth in 2003. His brother is Tyler Shook. His sisters are Shannon Elliott, Andria Shook and Allie Shook.

He was a college graduate and working at his dream job when Brandon began to notice something wasn’t right with the vision in his left eye.

Trying to get some answers, he went to optometrists and opthomalogists in Kentucky.

It was the opinion of Dr. Landen Meeks in Paducah that Brandon likely had Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) — a sudden, painless loss of central vision. The condition typically starts in one eye and progresses to the other eye within eight months.

Meeks had never diagnosed LHON before. Brandon underwent a spinal tap done to rule out other things.

“He was a straight shooter and Brandon liked that,” says Julie Shook. “He told him there is no cure (for LHON).”

Meanwhile, central vision in the right eye was also going cloudy. Though blurry, Brandon could see shadows and movement in his peripheral vision. He described looking straight ahead like looking into the hole of a donut.

Julie Shook found Dr. Sophia Chung, a neuro-opthalmologist with SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, and took her son to St. Louis. Only genetic blood tests would determine the cause of Brandon’s vision loss so he went through eight hours of testing.

Several weeks went by. On May 10, 2016, the call came. A 25-year-old Brandon Elliott was diagnosed with LHON.

The condition is an inherited form of vision loss. This inheritance applies to genes contained in mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria produce most of the energy that cells need to function and these inherited mutations disrupt the mitochondria and cause cells in the retina to stop working or die.

LHON is a maternal hereditary disease, which means it is passed from the mother. Shannon Elliott was tested and she is a carrier. It is more prominent coming out in males in their mid- to late-20’s. It is not as common to come out in females.

“It is rare,” says Julie Shook. “Everyday they’re learning more. It’s hard as a mother when you find out something they have is something you gave them. But I had no idea.”

After learning of his condition, Brandon let it be known that his life was in Murray, Ky., and he had no intention of returning to Plymouth.

“That was hard,” says Julie Shook, who is dean’s administrative assistant at the University of Notre Dame Law School. “I also know you need to let people make their own decisions on their own time.

“I needed to be strong for him and listen to what he wanted.”

After the tests in St. Louis, the ride back to Kentucky was quiet at first. Then Brandon asked his mother a question.

“He said , ‘How do you go from seeing a 90 mph fastball to not being able to see it?,’” says Julie Shook. “‘It is what it is. God gave it to me for a reason. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m strong and maybe I can help someone somehow.

“‘I just have to go on with life. This is what I’ve been given. I have to go on and enjoy life.’”

That life includes marriage and children, a fulfilling occupation and plenty of support from family and friends.

About six months after graduating with a business administration degree from Murray State in 2013, Elliott went to work for Sportable Scoreboards in Murray.

The family-owned company started in 1986 by Mike Cowen serves clients all over the place and has one of their boards at Johnny Reagan Field — home of Murray State baseball and the place where Elliott earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010 and finished his four-year career with a .323 average, six home runs, 35 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 135 runs scored in 180 games (171 as a starter).

Brandon was employed in the customer service department and one day a new employee came along — digital designer Meagan Cowen. He soon learned that she was Mike and Joyce Cowen’s granddaughter.

While Brandon and Meagan knew each other before the diagnosis, they began dating after it. They did not tell their grandparents until they had become serious. The young couple was married April 14, 2018 in Paris, Tenn.

“It was an emotional day,” says Julie Shook. “He told me in the morning of that day, ‘Mom, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.’

“What a statement for a 27-year-old to make who lost their vision at 25.”

When she walked down the aisle to become Meagan Elliott, Brandon took out a pair of binoculars to see her when she first appeared.

“That brought everybody to tears,” says Brandon Eggenschwiler, whose Murray State career parallels Elliott’s. “It’s truly amazing. He hasn’t missed a step in his daily life. He still goes on golf outings.

“He’s been a real champ about this whole situation.”

Shannon Elliott expresses her gratitude for Meagan coming into her brother’s life.

“Brandon thought he would never get another girlfriend again,” says Shannon, a 2011 Plymouth High School graduate who played tennis at Saint Mary’s College, graduating in 2015, and earned a mortuary science degree from Vincennes University in 2017. “Mom and I prayed he’d find someone who would accept him for who he is.

“It’s a touching thing.”

While the 25-year-old works for a funeral home in Austin, Texas, sister and brother remain very close.

“He’s my best friend,” says Shannon of Brandon. “I talk to him and his family in Kentucky probably three times a week.

“Meagan been there for him. It’s been unbelievable. I can’t imagine being in her shoes. She has to drive everywhere. I couldn’t be more thankful for what she does for him.”

Brandon and Meagan expect to welcome a baby girl on Thanksgiving Day.

Shannon has been raising money and awareness of her brother and LHON through a website — howhesees.org. She sells bracelets with the inscription “VI510N” — which tells the date his brother was diagnosed.

Brandon and Meagan wrote their own wedding vows. Brandon also wrote vows to Meagan’s young son, Bentley (who would turned 5 in September).

The wedding party was quite large and included Tyler Shook, Brandon Eggenschwiler, Ty Stetson and Reed Thompson.

Three of them had been the top three batters in the Murray State Racers’ lineup at the end of 2013 — left fielder Stetson (Carmel, Ind.) leading off, followed by third baseman Elliott and designated hitter Eggenschwiler (Lexington, Ky). First baseman Michael Kozolowski (Crown Point, (Ind.) was the clean-up hitter. Those four were also roommates in 2012-13.

“Brandon has so many wonderful friends,” says Shook. “That’s just a tribute to Brandon. He’s just such a sweet kid. He has a big heart. People are just drawn to him.

“He’s an inspiration.”

Tyler Shook, a 2010 Plymouth graduate, played baseball and football with stepbrother Brandon in high school and was also an American Legion teammate.

“He was one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with or against,” says Tyler. “He was just good at everything and a quick learner.”

There was competition for competitive bragging rights around the Shook/Elliott household. But never any animosity.

“We all got along really well,” says Tyler. “we still do. Brandon was pretty humble for the skill he had. He wasn’t going out and telling everybody about it. It was always about the team.”

One the football field, defensive end/linebacker Brandon and safety Tyler were called the “Bash Brothers” for their ability to hit on defense even though they wore casts on their hands much of the 2008 season as the John Barron-coached Rockies went 10-1.

“My dad (Dave) raised us with the mindset of ‘tough it out,’” says Tyler. “For lack of better words, ‘If your legs aren’t broken you walk yourself off the field, play through it for the team’ kind of mindset.

“(Brandon) had the grit and was not afraid to stick his nose in there. They called him ’Squirrel’  because he was one of the smallest guys on the field — maybe 5-10, 170. He was not a big guy, but definitely played like one.

“He’s always been incredibly competitive whether it be team sports, golf, video games, you name it. He just has the biggest and strongest heart and drive of anyone I know. I think that mentality is what has helped him through the ups and down of the last few years.”

Thompson, an outfielder from Cheyenne, Wyoming, did not play with Brandon. But he lived near him and was around when his vision began to change and has witnessed how he has adjusted since the LHON diagnosis.

“He can still move around just fine,” says Thompson. “He just has a hard time seeing fine details. His work has been awesome for him. They’ve gotten him a 40-inch flat screen as computer monitor.

“He loves that job. That’s why he stayed in Murray.”

Tony Plothow was both head baseball coach at Plymouth High School and manager for Plymouth American Legion Post 27 when Brandon was a player. Plothow also coached Brandon in basketball at PHS.

Brandon played for Post 27 each summer after his four years of high school and first year of college.

“(Brandon) started for us as a freshman,” says Plothow. “He came in with a lot of confidence and he fit in pretty well. He became a mentor to younger kids.

“He was one of those kids you didn’t have to motive. As he got older, he was a great leader in the locker room.”

Brandon hit .438 with three homers, 22 RBIs and 42 runs scored as a Plymouth senior  and was named MVP of the 2009 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. In Legion ball, he shined against tough competition and got the the attention of Murray State, where he played for head coach Rob McDonald.

Mike Hite was an assistant coach for PHS and Post 27 when Brandon was a player.

“As an athlete, he was a competitor,” says Hite of Brandon. “He was a winner. He was a perfectionist. He always wanted to be the one that came through in the clutch. That was pretty special.”

As Plymouth parks superintendent, Hite employed Brandon for several summers. Allie Shook, Brandon’s stepsister, works for Hite now.

“(Brandon) wanted to excel in whatever he was doing — cutting grass, pulling weeds or going deep in the hole to turn a double play (at shortstop).

“He’s used to succeeding in everything he does and he still is.”

Former Plymouth head basketball coach John Scott recalls Brandon’s contributions in 2007-08, a season that saw the Pilgrims go 22-4 and make it to the Class 3A Warsaw Semistate.

“Brandon was so very athletic,” says Scott. “He was a very streaky shooter. We played NorthWood just before Christmas. He hit some huge 3-pointers for us that night on the road. He, along with a great game from Nick Neidlinger, got us off to a good start in the (Northern Lakes Conference).”

Scott is also assistant athletic director and longtime public address announcer for Pilgrims/Rockies sports.

Evan Jurjevic got to know Brandon as a fellow middle infielder for Plymouth Post 27. Shortstop Elliott was the lone Plymouth High product surrounded by three LaPorte Slicers — second baseman Jurjevic, first baseman Shawn Rogers and third baseman Jake McMahan.

“(Brandon) was an incredible baseball player,” says Jurjevic. “He was extremely hard-working and talented. He played with a lot of energy and heart.

“He was an overall great guy, a good team player. He was always pushing others to get better.”

Jurjevic, a part-time strength coordinator and instructor for the Indiana Chargers travel organization who is pursuing a physical therapy doctorate at Trine University-Fort Wayne, sees his old friend meeting his condition head-on.

“Baseball is easy compared to something like this,” says Jurjevic. “It’s puts things into perspective.

“It’s definitely a challenge and an obstacle he had to overcome.”

While he must sit very close to view television and uses a large monitor at work, Brandon tries to lead as normal a life as possible. He bowls, plays golf and has fun in the backyard with Bentley.

“He doesn’t want people to know,” says Julie. “He was very hesitant about seeing someone about visual needs.”

Dave Shook spent a week with his stepson and they met with Kentucky Visual Aid. Brandon told them he could not take the aids because they were too expensive.

Then he was asked: “Do you pay taxes?”

His answer: “Yes.”

The reply: “You’ve paid for it.”

For more information on Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, visit lhonsociety.org.

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Brandon Elliott, a Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, hits the baseball for Murray (Ky.) State University, where he graduated in 2013 after four seasons. (Murray State University Photo)

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Brandon Elliott finished his four-year baseball career at Murray (Ky.) State University with a .323 average, six home runs, 35 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 135 runs scored in 180 games (171 as a starter). He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010. (Murray State University Photo)

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Brandon Elliott, a 2009 Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the school’s athletic Wall of Fame for being named MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. He also excelled at football and basketball at Plymouth.

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Meagan and Brandon Elliott on their wedding day — April 14, 2018.

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Brandon, Meagan and Shannon Elliott share a moment during Brandon and Meagan’s wedding on April 14, 2018.

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Brandon Elliott, who was diagnosed in 2016 with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) — a sudden, painless loss of central vision — uses binoculars to see his bride, Meagan, during their wedding April 14, 2018. The couple met at Sportable Scoreboards in Murray, Ky. Her grandfather, Mike Cowen, founded the company.

 

Bethel Hall of Famer Masterson keeping busy since baseball retirement

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Masterson put the wraps on his professional baseball playing career in 2017.

A 6-foot-6, 235-pound right-hander possessing what was often a devastating sinker pitched for the Boston Red Sox (2008-09, 2015), Cleveland Indians (2009-14) and St. Louis Cardinals (2014).

“Mr. Clean” appeared in 25 games with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in 2016. He also pitched in the minors for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations.

Before any of that, the Kingston, Jamaica-born, Beavercreek (Ohio) High School graduate spent two seasons at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (he was an honorable-mention NAIA All-American in 2004 and National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association All-American in 2004 and 2005), and one at San Diego State University (2006).

At Bethel, he was a combined 20-8 on the mound with 185 strikeouts posted earned averages of 2.09 in 2004 and 1.59 in 2005. With a bat, he clubbed a team-best 10 homers in 2005.

He was inducted into the Bethel Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.

Masterson was selected in the second round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Red Sox.

Justin and wife Meryl Masterson (her maiden name is Ham) celebrated 11 years of marriage Nov. 3, 2018. The couple resides in Fishers, Ind., and have three children — 7-year-old Eden and 4-year-old twins Cruz and Nadia.

Philanthropists, the Mastersons founded a non-profit, Fortress Foundation, in 2013 with business partner and former Bethel teammate Matt Zappasodi. Justin Masterson is chairman, Matt Zappasodi director, Meryl Masterson co-chair and Emily Zappasodi treasurer.

Masterson also partnered with the One Child Matters baseball project in the Dominican Republic in 2008, spoke at the Pentagon’s weekly prayer breakfast in 2009 and worked with Bright Hope in 2013.

He has also indicated that he will support The BASE Indianapolis. The group brings baseball and educational opportunities to urban youth.

Masterson, 33, was an award presenter in October at the Bethel College Founders Society Dinner, where plans were revealed for the school’s transition to Bethel University in May 2019.

Recently, Masterson agreed to an IndianaRBI Q&A session.

Q: What are some of your fondest on-field memories at Bethel College?

A: Let’s see. Justin Gingerich, fellow pitcher, hitting a bomb off of me in fall ball. And — no! — he didn’t have much practice leading up to that moment. I think that was the fall of our sophomore year.

I felt all the emotions during a doubleheader. We were facing Marian, I think for the conference, and I start the first game and we did well and won. Game 2, we are winning and I am brought in to close out this game. Control was a little off, I think I walked the bases loaded, then their best hitter at the time — don’t know his name, but he had a solid beard and long hair — he came up and crushed one into the trees for a grand slam. The day started on a high note and ended on a low note. There are so many incredible memories!

We set a record in wins my freshman year (44 in 2004) and it was a pleasure to play with some great players.

One game, I am still trying to figure out if it was true or folklore, but Marcel Guevara, a well-sized left-handed Venezuelan, crushed six or seven homers in a doubleheader. And the joke remains that Marcel hit a guy with a ball over the fence during batting practice, we looked at Marcel and said, ‘You hit that guy!’ He responded with, ‘He shouldn’t have been standing there.’ Fun times!

Q: What are some of your fondest off-field memories at Bethel College?

A: My time started with incredible roommates. First year I had my cousins Dan and Aaron Hamrick, along with Kyle Feller and Matt Savill.

The next year it continued with my cousin Aaron and we added Logan Halley and Aaron Engbrecht.

Along with the fact that my older sister (Mandy) was at Bethel, this made for the baseline of a blessed college journey.

One of my favorite things to do was to join my cousin Dan for open gym basketball just about every evening. Even the days I had two-a-day baseball practices, Dan would still drag me to open gym, but I didn’t fight too hard either.

Meeting my wife, Meryl, has to be near the top of fondest memories at Bethel. I was a sophomore and she was a freshman. We were together in perspective of fine arts, that is we were both taking the class and she noticed me well before I noticed her, but once I noticed she was noticing me, well, lets just say we celebrated 11 years of marriage.

I could go on for days and know there are plenty that I am forgetting. Enjoying myself I did!

Q: What was your favorite class or classes?

A: Anything with Dr. Bob Laurent! There were other great professors and enjoyable classes but he — just like he has for thousands of students and people in his lifetime — impacted my life in lasting ways that were helpful in molding me into who I am today.

Q: What else can you tell us about your studies at Bethel or San Diego State? What was major?

A: At Bethel, I was taking a smorgasbord of bible classes and when I went to San Diego State those that transferred turned my major into a criminal justice/psychology/sociology major.

I worked hard in all my classes, but school was honestly a means for me to grow and develop socially, physically and mentally as I continued my journey to the Major Leagues.

Q: Who were the toughest hitters you faced in the big leagues?

A: One most people will agree with — Miguel Cabrera. I believe he is one of the best hitters because he can do anything with a bat and is willing to do what the situation dictates. He can hit a home run, but is satisfied with a base hit that scores a run. Not afraid to take a walk if the pitcher is giving it to him.

Melky Cabrera raked me, but the other I talk about most is Don Kelly.

If you haven’t heard of him that is understandable, also means you are not a Tigers fan. Don was the king at just dropping balls in over the infielders’ heads. (Kelly) would bat in the 9-hole against every other pitcher, but would hit in the 4-hole against me. It culminated to 2013, I gave up three runs in each of my games against Detroit. Those runs came from Downtown Don’s two three-run home runs. If he wasn’t an incredible guy, I might be more upset about it!

Q: Who were some of the best that you got out regularly?

A: I do not remember the best. I would say the majority of right-handed hitters I fared quite well against with my low three-quarters arm slot and heavy sinking action.

I do remember my first playoff series against the angels and facing Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero each game. I did not get them out every time, but fared decently well against them, at least we won that series so I didn’t do too terrible!

Q: What do you think it’s been like for her to be a baseball wife?

A: A journey! It is such an interesting world to navigate as a professional athlete’s wife.

That world ranges from ladies who, by the way they talk, are out on the field making plays, to ladies who are some of the kindest, most humble people you will ever meet.

Of course, my wife is a part of the kind, humble spectrum and she was and still is well-respected by all who crossed her path. Not only do they have to deal with each other, but they have to deal with their husband who may or may not have fared very well that night.

I think my wife’s husband made that part of the gig a little bit easier. Not because he always performed well, but because the game was just that — a game! And he answers in third person!

Q: What are you doing these days?

A: I am available. What do I mean by that? I have dug a ditch, I have milled some logs, I have done some speaking, I have done some leading, I have done some lessons, I am coaching second grade basketball and the list can continue.

I did not want to jump into anything too permanent right away after deciding not to play anymore.

What do most of my days consist of? Lots of family time, reading, writing and some bootleg guitar playing!

Q: What about Fortress Foundation?

A: A refuge to those in a time of need. We are trying to go where God is leading us to impact spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

Meryl and I started the foundation in 2013 and do not plan on it lasting forever but wanted a way to be good stewards of God’s financial blessings through baseball and also have a way to hold the organizations we work with accountable.

Matt Zappasodi and I are going to India soon to impact lives in a positive way

Q: Do you keep in-touch with other former Bethel teammates or classmates?

A: We have been blessed to have the Zappsodi’s around and have also had chances to keep in touch with many Bethel people over the years.

One of the great things about baseball is that you travel to a lot of neat cities and with Bethel alumni being scattered throughout the country, lets just say the joke in the clubhouse was that I knew someone in every city that we went to.

And if I had time I loved meeting before the game or after the game for a late night bit to eat. Many opportunities have arisen though the friendships that I made at Bethel.

Q: You say you live in or near Fishers, Ind.? Is that near where Meryl is from?

A: Meryl is from the mean streets of Mishawka and I hail from two minutes east of Dayton. We could live anywhere after we were married and (the Indianapolis area) kind of splits the difference between our families. Ten years later, we are still here and it is a pretty good place to live.

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Justin Masterson (foreground) captures the scene at a fall retreat in Brown City, Mich. Masterson is a member of the Bethel College Athletics Hall of Fame and former Major League Baseball pitcher. He is kept busy doing many things, including making impact spiritually, emotionally, and physically through the Fortress Foundation.

 

Former D-I baseball player Hammond getting started with South Bend Washington Panthers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With support from the community and the school system, Lawrence “Buster” Hammond Jr., is now leading the baseball program at South Bend (Ind.) Washington High School.

Hammond had a call-out meeting about a month ago that drew 25 players. He has since picked up a few more who are interested in representing the Panthers and the West Side.

As he searches for a coaching staff, Hammond will continue to look for potential athletes both in the hallways and baseball organizations.

With enough players, Washington may be able to field three teams in 2019 — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen (or C-team).

Washington is in the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley and South Bend St. Joseph).

The Panthers are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Culver Military Academy, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend St. Joseph. Washington’s last two sectional titles came in 1996 and 1997 — the final two years of single-class sports.

“Washington baseball alumni have really supported me,” says Hammond. “I’ve jumped on to their legacy and how great they used to be.”

Hammond says Washington High School administrators — athletic director Garland Hudson, principal Thomas Sims, assistant principals Dr. Nicole Garcia and Trent Chambliss and CSI coordinator Ryan Frontczak — have also been in his corner.

There’s also been backing from Mark Haley and Doug Buysse at the South Bend Cubs 1st Source Bank Performance Center.

“They’ve really supporting me and I appreciate it,” says Hammond.

The son of the late Lawrence “Buster” Hammond Sr., and Joann Cale, Hammond is a 1998 graduate of Middletown (Del.) High School. He was a three-sport athlete for the Cavaliers, earning all-conference in football, starting as a sophomore and junior in basketball (missing his senior season with a broken leg) and being recognized as all-state and all-conference outfielder in baseball.

Middletown baseball coach Richard Green taught Hammond that the diamond sport is “hardest mental game you’ll ever play.”

“That’s absolutely true,” says Hammond. “You can be on top of the world one game and on the bottom of the world the next.”

Green also let his players know that adversity and failure is a part of life and those life lessons can be learned through baseball.

“I would be riding high then go 0-for-13 or something,” says Hammond, who swang from the left side of the plate. “I found out you’re not always going to be good at something. But you have to work hard at it and it will play off.

“Hitting is a muscle memory and a confidence thing. I would just kept going and be persistent. I’d get more swings in the cage and focus in on little stuff. I’d make sure I was perfecting my skills in the outfield so I didn’t let my team down there.”

Hammond played two seasons at Cecil College, a junior college in North East, Md., and two at NCAA Division I Delaware State University in Dover, Del.

At Cecil, Hammond worked with head coach Charlie O’Brien and assistant Clyde Van Dyke and learned how to stay consistent at the plate and foul off the pitches he could not hit squarely.

Hammond encountered head coach J.P. Blandin and assistant Clint Ayers at Delaware State.

“(Ayers) taught me a lot about hitting like a two-strike approach,” says Hammond. “Most hitters want to hit to their power (the pull-side). (With two strikes, you) let the ball travel and hit it on the back side. (Ayers) changed our stance a little bit. You hit the ball where it’s pitched and let your hands be the engine and everything else follows.”

With that advice, Hammond’s confidence took off and the ball began jumping off his bat as a DSU Hornet.

Hammond moved to South Bend in November 2007, following the woman that would become his wife she took a job at the University of Notre Dame. She now works in insurance for the NCAA.

Buster worked six years for the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County, coaching youngsters in flag football, basketball and soccer at Wilson Elementary. He’s also coached his son in flag football and baseball at Chet Waggoner Little League.

Hammond started as a Family & Consumer Science teacher at Washington in August.

Married now for eight years, Buster and Nikki Hammond have four children together — kindergartener Langston (6), pre-schooler Hazel (3) and twins Isadora and Iris (who turn 1 on Dec. 11). Buster’s two older children are Dominic (15) and Kamille (14).

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Lawrence “Buster” Hammond Jr., is entering his first sas

 

IHSBCA Hall of Fame to welcome Williams, McClain, O’Neil, Schellinger, Rolen

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A very small town in the northwest quadrant of Indiana has produced to big league baseball players.

Within months of one another in 1887, Fred “Cy” Williams and Otis “Doc” Crandall were born in Wadena, Ind.

According to Cappy Gagnon’s Society for American Baseball Research BioProject profile of Williams, Wadena had but 75 people in 1890. Wikipedia says the 2009 population was 20.

Wadena in Benton County can now claim Williams as a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. He is part of the induction class of 2019. The veterans committee selected Williams and Ronald J. McClain with Pat O’Neil going in as a coach, Bob Schellinger as contributor and Scott Rolen as a player.

Williams played the first half of his career during the Deadball Era and still put up power numbers.

Donning the uniforms of the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies from 1912-30, the lefty slugger hit .292 with 251 home runs, 1,005 runs batted in, 1,024 runs scored, 115 stolen bases. He led the National League in home runs four times, on-base percentage twice (not that they talked about that back then) and slugging percentage one time.

Williams died in 1974.

O’Neil, a graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School in 1975 and Kentucky Wesleyan College in 1980, is now head coach at Danville (Ind.) Community High School.

His career coaching mark of 364-124 includes a state championship (2005) and two state runners-up finishes (2003 and 2004) at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School. His Bulldogs also won five Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles, three sectionals, three regionals and three semistates.

O’Neil has coached 12 first-team all-staters, nine all-stars, two Mr. Baseballs (Lance Lynn and Tucker Barnhart) and sent more than 50 players to college baseball.

Pat’s brother, Chip O’Neil, is already in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. Both played for legendary coach Ken Schreiber.

Schellinger, a graduate of South Bend St. Joseph’s High School and Illinois Benedictine College, coached with Schreiber at LaPorte. He served stints as head coach and assistant at South Central (Union Mills) High School.

He has been a licensed IHSAA umpire for 46 years with 17 sectional assignments, 11 regionals, five semistates, four State Finals and three IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

A four-time IHSBCA Umpire of the Year, Schlleinger was honored at IHSAA Official of the Year in baseball at the 2017 State Finals.

Rolen, who is now the director of player development at Indiana University, is a 1993 Jasper (Ind.) High School graduate. There, he was Mr. Baseball and a runner-up for Mr. Basketball.

A two-time first-team all-stater and IHSBCA All-Star, Rolen went on to play in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1997 and wound up hitting .281 with 316 homers, 1,287 RBIs and 1,211 runs scored in 17 seasons. He also won eight Gold Gloves as a third baseman.

Hall of Famers will be honored during the IHSBCA awards banquet during the annual state clinic Jan. 17-19 at Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

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Scott Rolen, a Jasper (Ind.) High School graduate, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

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Bob Schellinger, a South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph’s High School graduate, coach for 26 years and umpire for 46, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

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Pat O’Neil, a LaPorte (Ind.) High School graduate who guided Brownsburg to a state title and two runner-up finishes, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

 

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Cy Williams, born in tiny Wadena, Ind., is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Buysse, Haley offer wisdom on practice, recruiting to Cubbies Coaches Club

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University South Bend head baseball coach Doug Buysse shared his methods for making the most of practices at the first Cubbies Coaches Club meeting of 2018-19.

Organization and communication are two key concepts to Buysse.

“Having a plan walking into practice is a big deal,” said Buysse. “You want to have something kids can see.”

By detailing each part of practice in writing, it allows the team to have a focus for the day.

“You wanted to be as detailed as possible,” said Buysse. “That makes your life easier as a coach.”

Buysse posts the IUSB schedule for a 4:30 p.m. practice by noon using a group app or e-mail. Players come to expect it at that time and if it’s not there the coach hears about it.

“Expectation is really important,” said Buysse, who likes to throw out pop quizzes to his players about what is on the detailed practice plan. “They need to read this and know the expectation.

“It becomes ingrained. It helps the kids. It helps you.”

Buysse says he looks for his Titans to compete in everything they do and that includes practice.

Whether IUSB is playing catch or working on offense or defense, they are keeping track of these repetitions to see who is doing them best and who needs to work harder to make up the difference.

One defensive drill involves cones and is called “fungo hockey.” Each stop is recorded.

In a four-spot infield practice, there are places for screen placements, flippers and fungo hitters.

Buysse identifies his four best fungo hitters — usually older pitchers — to hit 75 to 100 ground balls in about nine minutes.

“We chart the chances and errors,” said Buysse. “We’re creating an environment where it’s no acceptable to be last.”

Competition is also incorporated through tracking exit velocity or by hitting four quadrants during hitting drills. The first hitter in a group to hit each square twice wins.

“We’re putting it out there for guys to see,” said Buysse.

Again, it’s infusing competition into everything.

Batting practice is made more efficient by having multiple hitters taking cuts against live or machine pitches at the same time while others do front toss and flip drills.

Buysse notes that machines can be used for more than pitching. They can launch grounders and flies.

Outfielders get live reads during BP.

“You maximize what you have and be creative,” said Buysse.

Cubbies Coaches Club meets at 6:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month through March in the Pepsi Stadium Club at Four Winds Field in downtown South Bend.

Area college, high school and youth coaches are invited to share ideas and fellowship.

Members pay $30 for the year and get a South Bend Cubs Foundation Coaches Manual and hear keynote speakers.

Hosting the meetings is 1st Source Bank Performance Center director and South Bend Cubs Youth Baseball Club coach Mark Haley.

A long-time baseball coach/manager, including a decade (2005-14) as South Bend Silver Hawks skipper, Haley began his coaching career at the collegiate told those gathered Tuesday what recruiters look for in a player.

“It’s athleticism, bat speed, instincts, fit with the team and grades,” said Haley. “Batting average is irrelevant to me. Look at tools, heart, desire.”

Haley noted that anyone can pick out the top players, what he calls the “5-percentiles.”

The key is to be able to identify the potential of the other 95 percent.

He also let those in attendance know the basis of his coaching philosophy, something he picked up from former University of Nebraska football coach Bob Devaney (Haley played baseball at Nebraska).

“Give everything and expect nothing in return,” said Haley. “That’s the way I live.”

It’s all about making the athletes better.

To learn more about the Cubbies Coaches Club, call (574) 404-3636 or email performancecenter@southbendcubs.com.

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The first Cubbies Coaches Club meeting of 2018-19 was held Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Carr wants Mt. Vernon (Fortville) Marauders to play with ‘Dirtbag’ intensity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Carr wants his Mt. Vernon (Fortville, Ind.) High School baseball players to play with an edge.

As a reward, the Marauders head coach presented “Dirtbag” T-shirts to those athlete who exhibited this brand of baseball in 2018 and plans to do the same again in 2019.

“We’re too nice sometimes,” says Carr. “(The incentive) gave them a reason to play a little harder. I want (opponents) to know they played a game of baseball.

“Every year the team has become closer and closer to what I want. We’re a year older and a year more experienced.”

After seeing Mt. Vernon go 16-12 in 2018, Carr heads into his fifth season as head coach next spring.

“It sounds so cliche’, but I want to get good kids to play hard,” says Carr, who learned more about the profession by attending the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis in 2018. “I want to get as much out of them as I can.

“I want them to play the game right and be respectful. I tell them to give ‘100 percent, 100 percent of the time.’”

Carr came back to Mt. Vernon (he was an assistant on Dustin Glant’s staff while teaching freshmen physical education during the spring semester in 2012) after spending 2013 as an assistant at Indianapolis Arsenal Tech and 2014 as head coach at Indianapolis Manual.

At the latter stop, the baseball program had been dormant and Carr helped bring it back. It was an experience that was both difficult and rewarding.

“I was knocking on doors and creating relationships to make sure we could field a team,” says Carr. “I had no assistant coach. I did get a lot of support from athletic director and assistant principal Don Burton.”

The Redskins won one game in 2014.

When Carr took over at Mt. Vernon, he was the fifth head coach at the Hancock County school in six years. He has tried to bring a sense of stability to the program and has sent players on to college baseball each year — Zach Spears (Miami University of Ohio and now in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization) in 2015, Noah Powell (Ball State University) and Kennedy Parker (Anderson University) in 2016, Braydon Augustinovicz (Franklin College) and Ryan Beck (Indiana University Kokomo) in 2017 and Caleb Rush (Frontier Community College in Illinois) and Dino Tharp (Urbana University in Ohio) in 2018.

Carr expects three seniors to return for 2019 — left fielder Dylan Cole, catcher Sam McCarty and center fielder Thomas Obergfell. Carr sees Cole going to an Ivy League school for academics only with the other two weighing their options of playing college ball.

A 2000 Norwell High School graduate, Carr was a four-year starter for head coach Bob Mosier.

“I learned that it does not matter what grade a kid’s in, if he’s good enough, let him play varsity,” says Carr. “It’s not always a very popular decision to play young guys. But if they’re good enough, put them on the field.”

Carr was one of three freshmen seeing considerable playing time when Norwell won the 1997 Bellmont Sectional and met future Notre Dame and major league pitcher Aaron Heilman and his Logansport teammates in the first round of the Kokomo Regional.

That was the last year of the IHSAA single-class system in Indiana. Carr recalls that the focus at the time of the switch was on basketball.

“It didn’t change that much for baseball,” says Carr. “We were in a sectional before with 2A’s and 3A’s. The Bellmont Sectional was made up of Adams and Wells county schools.”

Mt. Vernon is part of a Class 4A sectional grouping with Anderson, Connersville, Greenfield-Central, Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights and Richmond.

In 2018, the tournament was hosted by Mt. Vernon. Pendleton Heights beat the Marauders in the championship game. The last Mt. Vernon sectional championship season was 2011.

Mt. Vernon is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown). The Marauders went 6-8 in HCC play in 2018, finishing tied for fifth with Pendleton Heights and Shelbyville and behind conference champion New Palestine (11-4), New Castle (9-4), Yorktown (8-6) and Greenfield-Central (7-7).

HCC games are played as Friday night doubleheaders unless New Castle (which does not have lights) is hosting and then the contests are on Saturday.

Mt. Vernon’s lighted varsity diamond is on-campus and has a short brick wall in front of the dugouts rather than a screen. There is an adjacent practice field.

Carr is still filling his 2019 coaching staff. Michael Thompson has been with him each year at the varsity level and will return. Jerry Grill will lead the junior varsity. Other coaches at the varsity, JV and C-team levels have not yet been solidified.

Typically, Carr likes to have 40 players in the program.

“Every year I get better at (explaining to players how they might fit),” says Carr. “I try to be forthright and open, telling them ‘this is the role you’re going to play.’”

Marauder Baseball Club will field 8U through 13U teams in 2019. The club’s first season was 2018.

Other feeder programs for MVHS include middle school baseball, Mt. Vernon Optimist League, Oaklandon Youth Organization and various travel organizations. The Midwest Astros are headquartered in Greenfield. Marauders also play in the summer for the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro and others.

The son of Megan Carr, Ryan grew up in Bluffton, Ind., and participated in local youth leagues and travel ball for the Fort Wayne Indians during his high school years.

He played four seasons (2001-04) at Manchester College (now Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.).

The Rick Espeset-coached Spartans won Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament titles in 2002 and 2004, an HCAC regular-season crown in 2004 and went to the 2004 NCAA Division III College World Series in Appleton, Wis.

“He’s an interesting cat,” says Carr of Espeset. “He’s always thinking and changing. He tries things his players maybe don’t understand. But he’s proven himself.

“I loved playing for him.”

Carr tries to mimic Espeset calm demeanor.

“He’s not a rah-rah guy,” says Carr. “I’m more excitable, but I try to keep it cool. I don’t get in an umpire’s face.”

Carr got his history/social studies in 2006. After holding non-education positions, his first teaching job was at Indianapolis Marshall High School in the fall of 2011. That’s when he began helping Glant at Mt. Vernon.

Now a high school history and government teacher at Mt. Vernon, Carr is engaged to Joanna Sajda.

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Ryan Carr (left) and fiancee’ Joanna Sajda enjoy Turkey Run State Park in the spring of 2018. Carr is entering his fifth season at head baseball coach at Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind., in 2019.