Former Delta, Indiana State, Louisville hurler Conway begins pro career in White Sox system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gaining confidence and maturity have gone a long way in helping Austin Conway along his baseball journey, which has taken him into professional baseball as a right-handed pitcher in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Conway played for head coach Terry Summers at Delta High School near Muncie, Ind., where he graduated in 2013.

“He taught you how to carry yourself on the field and have a lot of composure,” says Conway of Summers. “I was very immature as a freshman. I had a lot of growing up to do. Having him around really helped.”

From Delta, where current Cowan High School head coach Ryan Conwell was an assistant, Conway took his talents to Terre Haute to play for Indiana State University. That’s where he got to work with Sycamores head coach Mitch Hannahs and pitching coach Jordan Tiegs.

“I was very raw coming out of high school,” says Conway. “I lacked at knowing the game. (Hannahs) was hard on me. But he wanted to get the most out of me.

“He helped me with the mental side. He made me grow up and become a much better baseball player.

Conway learned that college baseball moves at a faster clip than high school.

“(Hannahs) would take me to the side and slow me down,” says Conway. “He gave me tough love when I needed that, too.”

Conway figured out how to understand and control situations. He would figure out what was working for him that day and what was not.

He found out that sometimes the situation calls for finesse.

“You can’t blow it by everybody,” says Conway, 23.

Tiegs came on board for Conway’s sophomore season.

“He helped me on the confidence side,” says Conway of Tiegs. “The first bullpen he saw, I threw was really good. He was very relatable, easy to trust and get close to.

“He was really big on the health and mechanics side of pitching.”

Tiegs, who pitched at Sauk Valley Community College and the College of Charleston, implemented a weighted ball program/velocity program that helped develop mechanics and velocity.

Conway took to it and saw results.

“I started pounding the zone more,” says Conway, who played four seasons for ISU (2014-17) with the 2016 season shortened to six appearances and 15 2/3 innings because of a shoulder injury. He received a medical redshirt for the year.

The righty came back in 2017 and was named second team all-Missouri Valley Conference after going 2-1 with 12 saves, a 2.97 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and 11 walks over 33 1/3 innings and 28 appearances (all in relief). When he was done at ISU, he ranked No. 2 on the career saves list with 20.

When Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft offers did not meet Conway’s standards, he though he was done with baseball.

But his coach with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod Baseball League — Harvey Shapiro — made a call to friend Dan McDonnell, head coach at the University of Louisville.

McDonnell extended an invitation to Conway, who was approved for a fifth year of eligibility.

He also enrolled in Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law.

Juggling law school and baseball, Conway posted a 3-1 record with two saves, a 2.21 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 17 walks in 24 innings and 20 appearances (all out of the bullpen) in 2018.

“It was incredible,” says Conway of his U of L experience. “It’s one of the best programs with one of the best head coaches in the country.

“(McDonnell) expects so much from his players and coaches. He’s very demanding.

“But he’ll respect you, if you respect him.”

Louisville pitching coach Roger Williams did not try to change much about the well-established Conway.

“He was more hands off with me as a fifth-year guy,” says Conway. “It was cool to see how he operated with the young guys.

“(With all pitchers,) he made sure the confidence was there.”

Conway was getting his four-seam fastball up to 95 mph with the Cardinals and regularly sat at 91 to 95. In pro ball, he was at 90 to 93. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, he also employs a “circle” change-up and “spiked” curveball (which looks more like a slurve).

The White Sox selected Conway in the 31st round of the 2018 draft and split his first pro campaign between the Arizona League White Sox and Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers.

Two other Indiana products — Logan Sowers and Michael McCormick — also played for Great Falls in 2018.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was a combined 8-6 with two saves and a 3.00 ERA. In 46 games (all in relief) and 71 1/3 innings, he struck out 64 and walked 28.

Comparing NCAA Division I to rookie-level pro baseball, Conway saw parallels in talent. Though the minors is sprinkled with raw Latin players with loads of potential.

A double major in criminal justice and political science/legal studies at ISU, Conway completed his first year of law school at the U of L. He says his law studies will be on hold while he is pursuing his baseball career.

Born in Muncie, Conway played his early baseball around Albany, Ind., and Middletown, Ind. He was on the Shenandoah all-star team.

A football player, the only summer he really played travel baseball was with Muncie American League Post 19 Chiefs going into his senior year at Delta.

Austin’s father (Steve Conway) lives in Albany. His mother and stepfather (Brooke and James Runyon) are in Rockford, Ill. He has two stepbrothers (Jeff Dobbs and Josh Dunsmore) a half-brother (Dustin Runyon) and half-sister (Caitlin Runyon).

Using some of the exercises he learned from Tiegs at Indiana State, Austin plans to split time between Illinois and Indiana while working out and getting his arm ready to go to spring training in Arizona in early March.

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Austin Conway pitched at Indiana State University from 2014-17. (Indiana State University Photo)

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Austin Conway pitched at the University of Louisville in 2018. (University of Louisville Photo)

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Juggling law school and baseball, Delta High School graduate Austin Conway posted a 3-1 record with two saves, a 2.21 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 17 walks in 24 innings and 20 appearances (all out of the bullpen) in 2018. (University of Louisville Photo)

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Austin Conway, a graduate of Delta High School near Muncie, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute, played one season at the University of Louisville and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2018. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

 

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Mental toughness helps Roncalli grad, current Rays minor leaguer Schnell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It used to burn Nick Schnell when his every at-bat didn’t produce a hit.

He expected to catch every fly.

Then the Indianapolis-born Schnell encountered Roncalli High School head baseball coach Aaron Kroll.

“He helped me a ton on the mental side of the game,” says Schnell of Kroll. “Baseball’s a game of failure. He told me, ‘just believe in yourself’ and ‘ don’t get down on yourself because of one bad at-bat.’”

Kroll encouraged Schnell to become one of the Rebels’ vocal leaders and lead by example by always playing hard.

Schnell responded by helping Roncalli to an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a sophomore in 2016 and solid seasons in 2017 and 2018.

The lefty-swinging center fielder enjoyed a monster senior season, hitting .535 with 15 home runs and 37 runs batted in for a 25-6 club that won Marion County and Ben Davis Sectional titles.

“I knew I had the capability to do that my senior year,” says Schnell. “I got on a roll and felt really good.

“I tried to repeat the same thing I was doing. I was playing with a lot of confidence.”

At one particularly red-hot stretch, Schnell went 12-for-15 at the plate with seven homers.

Schnell’s head-turning 2018 season ended in the first round of the Decatur Central Regional with a show of respect from Indianapolis Cathedral.

Leading 6-2 with two outs in the seventh inning with bases loaded for Roncalli and Schnell coming to the plate, the Irish intentionally walked the slugger and wound up with a 6-3 win.

Schnell earned Mr. Baseball honors from the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and was Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the Indianapolis Star Player of the Year.

He had verbally committed to play at the University of Louisville during his sophomore season and signed with the Cardinals as a senior.

But with Roncalli’s season winding down and the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft looming, Nick had a decision to make.

“My parents (Jay and Angie Schnell) and I sat down and talked about it,” says Nick. “The professional route is the best for me to create a good career.”

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Schnell as a compensatory first-round draft pick (No. 32 overall) and sent him to their rookie-level Gulf Coast League team in Florida.

Right away, he saw a contrast in high school and pro baseball.

“The biggest difference was consistent velocity I saw (in the minors),” says Schnell. “I saw guys in the mid-90s, even 100. In high school, they were 80 to 85 and every once in awhile you’d see 90.”

While rookie league pitchers were working to control their stuff, even their sliders and curves would come in at 85 mph.

Schnell says it took him a little over a week to make the adjustment.

“It comes with adapting to the game,” says Schnell. “When you see it everyday it becomes second nature to you. It was a daily thing you knew was coming.”

Playing mostly center fielder and some right, the 18-year-old hit .239 with one homer and four RBIs and was 2-for-6 in stolen base attempts in 19 games. His season was cut short in late July with a small stress fracture in his wrist.

“It was a freak thing,” says Schnell. “It came from overuse.”

Rather than rush him back at the end of the season, the Rays let Schnell heal so he could participate in the fall instructional league.

He spent a month in Florida making up for time lost during the summer.

“My main focus was really developing more as a ballplayer — get some at-bats back and getting better in the outfield and getting a better jump on stolen bases.”

School was planning to study sports psychology at Louisville and he gravitated toward Rays minor league mental skills coordinator James Schwabach, who suggesting reading books like “Grit: A Complete Guide on Being Mentally Tough” by James Clear.

The lanky Schnell (he is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds) considers versatility to be his strengths.

“I use my athleticism in all three outfield positions,” says Schnell, who was a starter in center for four seasons at Roncalli while hitting .473 with 25 homers and 109 RBIs. “I have all-fields hitting ability. I can hit to the opposite field or pull side.

“I’m not pull heavy. I use the whole field.”

Nick, the youngest of Jay and Amy Schnell’s three children, comes from an athletic family. His mother played volleyball at Kankakee Community College, where she met her future husband.

Oldest child Aaron Schnell (Roncalli Class of 2014) was three-time all-county in high school and played baseball at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Bailey Schnell (Roncalli ’15) played volleyball for the Rebels and then Western Michigan University.

Nick considers his father and brother as his biggest mentors.

“My dad got my brother and I into sports at an early age,” says Nick. “My brother is five years older. I followed him everywhere.”

Nick Schnell, who attended St. Roch Catholic School in Indianapolis Grades K-8, was a three-sport athlete through eighth grade (football, basketball, baseball). He played basketball his first two years in high school before deciding to concentrate on baseball.

Southport Little League on the south side of Indianapolis is where Schnell got his baseball start. He played there until he was 12.

Travel baseball teams included the Scott Schreiber-coached Blue Wave (a group of Roncallli-bound players) his 13U summer, the Dalton Jones-coached Indiana Twins (14U) and Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws (15U).

Schnell donned the uniform of the Indiana Bulls for two summers, playing for coaches Dan Held (16U) and Sean Laird (17U).

He spent two falls with Team Indiana and participated in an elite tournament in Jupiter, Fla., leading into his sophomore and junior years at Roncalli.

In the summer of 2017, Schnell was selected for the Perfect Game All-Star Classic in San Diego.

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Nick Schnell, a 2018 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, bats for the Gulf Coast Rays in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Schnell was selected No. 32 overall in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. (Cliff Welch Photography)

Former Shelbyville, Indiana State righty Larrison soaks up knowledge in first pro baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ethan Larrison went to Arizona and became a sponge.

The right-handed pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks system recently attended fall instructional camp at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale and spent his time soaking up as much baseball knowledge as he could.

“I asked as many questions as I could and tried to get better in every aspect,” says Larrison, a 2014 Shelbyville (Ind.) High School graduate who played for four seasons at Indiana State University (2015-18) in Terre Haute and was selected in the 16th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Diamondbacks. “There were a lot of former major leaguers there. I would soak in as much as these guys could tell us and paid attention to everything that was said.

“I’m not set in any aspect of pitching at all. I decided to go in with an open mind.”

He was impressed to see big leaguer Jake Lamb there grinding away in the same place as instructional league invitees.

“He got to the facility before anybody,” says Larrison of the all-star third baseman.

Larrison was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A all-state honorable mention selection and IHSBCA All-Star as a Shelbyville senior, playing for head coach Scott Hughes.

At ISU, Larrison appeared in 84 games (78 in relief) with an 11-13 record, 10 saves, a 4.12 earned run average, 141 strikeouts and 77 walks in 178 1/3 innings. His head coach was Mitch Hannahs and Jordan Tiegs his pitching coach.

In 2018, Larrison pitched in 25 games (all in relief) and went 3-6 with nine saves, a 3.76 ERA, 50 strikeouts and 23 walks in 55 innings for the Sycamores then got into 15 more contests (all out of the bullpen) and went 6-1 with a 3.10 ERA, 16 strikeouts and 10 walks in 20 innings for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops of the rookie-level Northwest League.

Between his last college season and first professional campaign, it was as much baseball as Larrison had ever played in one year.

“That was the biggest challenge. In summer (collegiate) ball, you might get into five or six games,” says Larrison, who played for the Prospect League’s Bobby Segal-managed Terre Haute Rex in 2015, rested his arm in the summer of 2016 and hurled for the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Hyannis Harbor Hawks in 2017. “We were playing everyday of the week for numerous weeks and getting into several games (in the minors).

Making it through that experience has him looking forward to 2019.

“I’m super excited about next year,” says Larrison, 23. “One of the hardest seasons a professional baseball player can have.

“I’ll be a lot more ready for next year. This is my group now.”

The next rungs on the Diamondbacks minor league ladder are Kane County (Low Class-A), Visalia (High Class-A), Jackson (Double-A) and Reno (Triple-A).

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Larrison touched 96 mph and sat at 92 to 94 mph with his four-seam fastball near the end of the college season. Fatigue and minor injuries pulled that down to 90 to 92 with Hillsboro. His pitching repertoire also features a “circle” change-up, slider and curveball.

“I try to make it as close to 12-to-6 as possible,” says Larrison of his curve. “It’s not sweeping, but something in the middle.”

Before reporting back to Arizona for spring training in early March, Larrison will be working out and plans to begin throwing again around the middle of November. He will also be serving an internship with the Indiana State baseball program as part of his sport management/marketing major.

Larrison, who is 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, says he enjoyed his time playing for Hughes at Shelbyville.

“He would push us, but he would also gave us room to develop on our own,” says Larrison, who helped the Golden Bears win over 20 games and a Hoosier Heritage Conference title in 2014. “Our team chemistry was really good. We played together since we were younger.”

Born in Beech Grove, Ind., Larrison was raised in Waldron, Ind., before moving to nearby Shelbyville as a seventh grader. He played in the Shelby County Babe Ruth League until travel baseball took him to the Indy Expos, Indiana Prospects and Midland (Ohio) Redskins.

Ethan is the youngest child of Gary and Amy Larrison. Brandon is the oldest and Caitlyn the second-born. Gary is a saleman and Amy a bank manager. Brandon works in the automotive industry and Caitlyn is on maternity leave as a teacher.

There have been plenty mentors and role models in Ethan’s life, from his father who played catch with him in the front yard and coached some of his teams to his older brother, who was a Shelbyville basketball player.

“I wanted to be as good as him when I was younger,” says Ethan. “It’s important to have quality coaches and I’ve learned a ton from everybody I’ve been with.”

That includes Hannahs and Tiegs at ISU.

“(Hannahs) was very strong on hard work and doing things when nobody’s watching,” says Larrison.

Tiegs helped Larrison and other Sycamore hurlers with a throwing routine that includes weighted balls and helps loosen and strengthen.

“It’s something he used,” says Larrison of Tiegs, who pitched for Sauk Valley Community College and the University of Charleston and with the independent Evansville (Ind.) Otters.

Hillsboro Hops Media Day

Ethan Larrison, a 2014 Shelbyville (Ind.) High School graduate, pitched four seasons at Indiana State University and made his professional baseball debut in 2018 in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Ethan Larrison grew up in Indiana and made his pro baseball debut in Oregon in 2018 with the Hillsboro Hops. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Former Shelbyville (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University reliever Ethan Larrison pitches out of the stretch for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2018. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Ethan Larrison pitched in 15 games for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops and was invited to the fall instructional league by the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Ethan Larrison throws a pitch for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2018. He played high school baseball in Shelbyville, Ind., and college ball at Indiana State University. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

 

Coddington teaches proper throwing mechanics for baseball, softball players

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Coddington believe he knows the proper way to throw a baseball and he’s been teaching it to players of all ages — youngsters to professionals — for 45 years.

Coddington, a South Bend, Ind., resident, is the lead instructor and founder of Michiana Sports Medicine and regularly shares his knowledge at 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field (home of the South Bend Cubs), Teddy Ballgames in South Bend and Bases Loaded in Valparaiso and has appeared at many other locations.

Employed by Ascendant Orthopedic Alliance, National Athletic Trainers’ Association board-certified athletic trainer Coddington is an Indiana Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Famer and a member of the Ball State Sports Medicine Society Ring of Honor. He graduated from Ball State University in 1976.

“Only 1 out of 100 coaches know what correct throwing mechanics should be,” says Coddington. “That’s why I stay busy. I see throwers everyday. It never stops.

“I’m out to save arms, shoulders and careers. I’m tired of 45 years of putting them back together.”

Coddington works with all positions — and not just pitchers.

“People have to understand that throwing mechanics is throwing mechanics,” says Coddington. “It does not matter if you’re a first baseman, second baseman, catcher etc. The hand break (from the glove) and the position is different, but the mechanic stay the same.

“Once the front foot hits the ground and the arm gets the high cocked and set position. You have to have correct mechanics in any of the nine positions (throughout the throwing motion) or you’re eventually going to get hurt and hurt seriously.”

Coddington points to two causes of arm, shoulder and elbow problems.

“Poor mechanics is the major culprit,” says Coddington. “Then you couple horrible mechanics with overuse and now you’ve got double indemnity. You’re just asking for a shoulder, elbow or both to blow apart.”

To throw correctly, Coddington says it is critical to break into drill work and segment the throwing motion.

Coddington notes that teaching hitters is a progression — from dry runs to tees to soft toss to long toss to live hitting.

“You don’t just get in the batter’s box and start swinging the bat — not how to hit correctly,” says Coddington. “And it’s the same way when you learn how to throw.”

“You don’t just put a ball in their hand and say, ‘Get the ball from Point A to Point B.’”

So many of the baseball and softball players Coddington has seen over the years have told them they know how to throw yet they have the tell-tale scars of Tommy John or some or surgery.

Coddington notes that about 80 percent of the Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgeries done in the U.S. are for players ages 14 to 18.

With Coddington’s way, throwers are instructed to stand with feet six inches apart with weight back and with the hands down near the belly button.

When the hands break, the glove hand goes up toward the target and the throwing hand goes back and up. Looking at both arms, it forms the letter “L.”

“You should have a straight line through both shoulders and both elbows,” says Coddington. “If you get to your set position and your back shoulder is down, the ball is going to be up. If your front shoulder is down and your back shoulder is up, the ball is going to be down. At release, the arm is going to be higher than the shoulder.”

Coddington says pitchers who throw across their stride line will throw everything low and outside to a right-handed hitter. If they fly open, the ball will come up and under the hitter’s chin.

“If you step across your body you block the hip. If fly open on the front side and the hip and trunk are gone, you’ve got to rely on (your arm) to create your power.

“If you look at the human body from the bottom of the foot to the ears and you think about it in relationship to throwing, it’s a kinetic chain,” says Coddington. “The weakest link is from your shoulder to your fingertips.

Yet, most players who Coddington sees for rehabilitation or throwing instruction want to use the arm rather than the hip and trunk (for velocity). That’s where they get in trouble.”

Coddington says good hitters will tell you that hips bring the hands to the ball and it’s the hips that should bring the ball to the release point when throwing.

“Hip, trunk and the arm goes along for the ride,” says Coddington. “Think of a train. Why is the engine in the front of the train? Because it’s much more efficient to pull than it is to push.

“Pulling from the front side is much more efficient than pushing from the back side. And it also keeps you healthy.”

Coddington, who grew up in LaPorte, Ind., looks back to his Ball State days to one of the biggest influences on his career. Baseball coach Bob Rickel was also the director of the sports science department.

Rickel said if Ball State athletic training student Coddington wanted to work with baseball and softball players to rehabilitate their injuries, he had to be able to teach them how to throw correctly afterwards or they were going to continue to get hurt.

“It used to be that we’d rehabilitate the injury and send them back to their pitching coach,” says Coddington. “But they didn’t know mechanics.

“Orthopedists and physical therapists taught me correct mechanics — not coaches. I learned it anatomically, biomechanically and physiologically.”

Coddington is currently conducting a clinic on overhand throwing for baseball and softball players 7 p.m. EST Mondays at Teddy Ballgames, 7:30 p.m. EST Thursdays at 1st Source Bank Perfornance Center and 9 a.m. CST Saturdays at Bases Loaded. For more information, e-mail michianasportsmedicine@gmail.com.

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John Coddington, a National Athletic Trainers’ Association board-certified athletic trainer and Indiana Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Famer, has been teaching proper throwing mechanics for 45 years. He is now holding overhand throwing clinics for baseball and softball players three days at week — two in South Bend and one in Valparaiso.

Kouts’ Tucker wears many hats — coach, teacher, husband, blogger, podcaster, wiffleballer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Tucker wants to make a difference in the lives of kids.

His vehicles are the classroom and the baseball diamond.

Tucker teaches Language Arts and Reading to middle schoolers at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and also serves as head baseball coach. The 2019 season will be his third leading the Kouts Mustangs.

As an educator, Tucker helps students along their path.

“I try to get the kids to be able to handle the real world,” says Tucker. “I tell them, ‘you can be who you want to be.’

“This is the toughest time in history to be a teenager. You can never shut it off.”

Tucker relates to his students and players through his ability to connect.

“I’m a storyteller,” says Tucker. “I get buy-in from the kids through stories, emotion and feelings.

“In coaching and teaching, I am a relationship builder and a communicator. The game is just an opportunity to becoming who we want to become.”

Some refer to that as transformational coaching.

“We’re here to shape the kids through baseball,” says Tucker. “We’re building a culture we are proud of from top the bottom. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tucker does not base his worth in his won-loss record — though he wants his players to experience winning.

“It’s about making an impact with these kids,” says Tucker, who was the fifth person named as baseball coach at Kouts when he took the job (John Hall took over the Mustangs softball program before the 2016 season).

His coaching staff includes two men — Randy Yager and Doug Murray — with little or no baseball background, but that’s not the priority.

“I’m more concerned with bringing in good men,” says Tucker. “True growth comes from the conversations after (players) fail.”

First-year volunteer coach Stefan Roney is a Kouts graduate. He was on the last Mustangs teams to win an IHSAA sectional championship in 2011 (Kouts reigned in the tourney held at Washington Township).

Kouts, a school of about 275 students, is in a Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

The Mustangs belong to the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central (Union Mills), Washington Township and Westville). Boone Grove won the 2018 Class 2A state title.

Tucker played at Calumet High School in Gary, Ind., graduating in 2008. He then went on Chicago State University and pitched four seasons in five years, sitting out the 2011 campaign recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and earning his English degree in December 2013.

His head coaches at Calumet were Larry Drake and Roger Azbill with Michael Caston leading the CSU Cougars Tucker’s first four years and Steve Joslyn his last.

Azbill approach baseball with a blue-collar mentality.

“I learned toughness,” says Tucker of Azbill. “He wanted you to show up everyday and do your job. You wanted to always try to get better.”

Caston was a Hammond, Ind., native who played at Valparaiso University. His pitching coach at Chicago State was former Lake Central High School, Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hurler and Gary SouthShore RailCats player Neal Frendling.

What Tucker remembers most from his college baseball experience is playing teams from every corner of the country and seeing the different styles of playing and coaching.

The year he sat out as a player, Tucker traveled with the team and did laundry. But he also decided his baseball future was in coaching. He came away from each trip with page after page of notes.

Before college, Tucker had played travel baseball for Dave Sutkowski with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Baseball Chiefs) and soaked up much about the game. He later coached with Sutkowski.

“He was very detailed,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “Everything was broken down and position-specific. He was also very competitive.

“We run our stuff (at Kouts) very much like we did with the Chiefs.”

Tucker was the pitching coach for Dave Griffin at Purdue-Calumet for one season before joining Steve Strayer’s coaching staff at Crown Point High School leading up to taking the Kouts job in the winter prior to the 2016 season.

“It was awesome learning from (Griffin),” says Tucker. “He does it a little bit differently. He allows guys to do their own thing. He wants to serve as a guy to help you get where you’re going.”

During games, Tucker would see the wheels turning for Griffin.

“He would call things before they happened,” says Tucker. “He was always thinking ahead.”

Tucker was with Strayer at the time the Bulldogs boss suffered a stroke and marvels at how quickly he bounced back.

“I was so impressed how he could manage so many people,” says Tucker of Strayer. “He was very diligent in his planning.

“He always had that growth mindset. He was always learning and adding to coaching tool kit.”

Strayer was quick to share his faith and to ask the opinions of his assistants, making sure to give them ownership in the program and Tucker takes the same tactic with his staff.

Tucker is also part of the new Wheelhouse Baseball podcast. It is part of the Chicago-based Overtime Sports Network, which promotes its various podcasts and blogs.

With Tucker, best friend and former Chicago State teammate Jeremy Ratjaczyk and avid podcaster and Calumet College of St. Joseph graduate Mikey Kubacki Jr., adding to the chatter, Wheelhouse podcast focuses on historic Major League Baseball games, quirky stats and obscure players.

It’s buddies talking baseball with a sense of humor.

“We’re three goofy guys and we’re quirky,” says Tucker. “We try to be genuine.”

The first episode debuted Oct. 10 and was centered on Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle’s perfect game for the White Sox in 2009.

Episode 2 is to be about the 10 worst contracts in MLB history.

Episode 3 will feature former Hammond Bishop Noll Institute and current minor league pitcher Matt Pobereyko. Episodes generally premier each Wednesday morning.

While his baseball playing days are done, Tucker still competes on the fast pitch wiffleball field. He plays for both the Griffleball League’s GasHouse Gorillas and in the Leroy Wiffle Ball Association.

Griffleball has been around for eight years and has seven teams playing on Sundays at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith. There is no base running. Wherever the ball lands determines the outcome of the at-bat.

Next year, the LWA is to have 14 teams and seven fields. Player do run the bases. If a team issues five balls to the opposing batter, they must lob the next ball in so there’s more offense.

Jim and wife Mysta Tucker have been married for a year and have two dogs.

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Jim Tucker, a 2008 Calumet High School graduate, delivers a pitch for Chicago State University. He played baseball for the Cougars in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013. He is now head baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. (Chicago State Photo)

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Jim Tucker is a teacher and baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. The graduate of Calumet High School and Chicago State University is also a husband, blogger, podcaster and wiffleballer. The 2019 season will be his third as head coach of the Kouts Mustangs.

Accountability, camaraderie important to Wells and his Greencastle Tiger Cubs

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Wells received a baseball foundation that he now uses as head coach at Greencastle (Ind.) High School.

Wells played four seasons at Owen Valley High School in Spencer, Ind., and two at the University of Indianapolis and applies what he learned in guiding the Greencastle Tiger Cubs.

As a third baseman and pitcher, Wells started on varsity as a freshman for head coach John Heckman at Owen Valley. It wasn’t a common practice at the school at that time.

“Age doesn’t really matter,” says Wells of the message being sent by his coach. “You put your best nine out there and go with it.”

After the spring of 1999, John Heckman turned the Patriots program after that season to his son, Trent Heckman.

“I I learned a lot about quality of practice and to work hard at all times,” says Wells of the Heckamans. Wells graduated from OV in 2002.

Gary Vaught, who retired after the 2018 season with 808 career victories and a pair of trips to the NCAA Division II World Series, passed on the importance of discipline to Wells in his two campaigns with the Greyhounds (2003 and 2004).

Vaught held his players accountable. They knew where they needed to be and when. If they failed to do so, there was a price. It could involve playing time or, perhaps, extra running or conditioning.

“Kids don’t understand that being a college athlete is a full-time job,” says Wells, who found that out first-hand. “I also picked up valuable techniques and skills I try to instill in my players today.”

Finishing his history eduction degree at UIndy in 2006, Wells had an idea that he would like to be a baseball coach. He is heading into his third season as Greencastle head coach in 2019 after four campaigns as an assistant.

Wells was junior varsity coach at Owen Valley in 2007 and an assistant at North Putnam High School in 2009 and 2010.

Greencastle belongs to the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo in the West Division and Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley in the East Division.

“We have one of the best 3A conferences in the state,” says Wells, noting that Northview was moved up to 4A via the IHSAA tournament success factor. “Our conference is pretty loaded.”

WIC games are played back-to-back weeknights. Only the first game counts toward conference standings.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” says Wells, who has indicated that prefers both games count.

After the intradivisional games, crossover games are played between the divisions (West No. 1 vs. East No. 1 and so on).

Non-conference foes include Cascade, Covenant Christian, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Monrovia and Tri-West Hendricks.

With about 550 students, Greencastle is the fourth-smallest 3A school in Indiana. The Tiger Cubs are in an IHSAA sectional with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Northwest and Tri-West Hendricks.

The schedule includes some varsity/junior varsity doubleheaders.

The one-day Putnam County tournament brings Greencastle, Cloverdale, North Putnam and South Putnam together for competition. The Tigers Cubs won the event in 2018.

What about the 2019 team?

“We have a pretty talented sophomore group,” says Wells, who expects to have number of players who played varsity as freshmen in last spring. Among those are Bryce Barger, Ethan Maier, Jordan Meyer, Nick Sutherlin and Brody Whitaker.

Seniors Alex Costin, Tanner Sanders and Trey Wood are also in the mix.

The Tigers Cubs have not yet had any college baseball commitments. Wood plans to attend Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football. Recent graduate Tanner Nicholson is on the baseball team at Franklin (Ind.) College.

Wellls’ assistant coaches are Greencastle head boys basketball coach Bryce Rector (who is also head JV baseball coach) and boys basketball assistant Craig Whitaker.

The Tiger Cubs play on-campus on a field that was recently added new infield dirt, clay mixture around home plate and upgrades for drainage.

“There’s still a lot more we want to do,” says Wells.

A seventh grade social studies teacher at Greencastle Middle School, Wells has the opportunity to get to know future players before they get to high school.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” says Wells. “I get a head start building relationships with those players.”

GMS, which serves Grades 6-8, has a baseball team. It is a club sport and not affiliated with Greencastle Community School Corporation.

“What we’ve lacked in the past is a feeder program,” says Wells. “When I grew up, Babe Ruth was the big thing. When we got to high school, we had known each other and played together since we were young.”

Such a system would build camaraderie and Wells would know what he had coming at the high school level.

“It’s something I’m trying to build,” says Wells. “We have not been able to get it pulled off yet.”

Greencastle is coming to the end of its fall baseball workouts. A new IHSAA rule allows coaches to practice with their teams for two hours two days a week during a certain period of time. The window closes after Oct. 12 and opens against the first week of December.

“I kind of like it,” says Wells. “I puts us all on a similar playing field. We’re a smaller school and have to share a lot of our athletes. (The rule) allows us to get as many guys together at once to throw and get in their cuts. It keep us in baseball shape throughout the year.

“It also helps us not burn out students on one thing.”

Ben and Kristen Wells have been married 11 years and have three children — 5-year-old son Lincoln and 3-year-old twin daughters Britain and Brooklyn.

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Greencastle (Ind.) High School won the 2018 Putnam County baseball tournament. Tiger Cubs with the hardware are (from left): assistant coach Bryce Rector, Gus Manion, assistant coach Craig Whitaker, Abe Wade, head coach Ben Wells and Jacob Harris.

In a family of coaches, Foster showing the way for Cascade Cadets

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ty Foster’s father taught him much about baseball.

Rick Foster coached baseball at Danville (Ind.) Community High School for more than 35 years and passed along what he knew about the game to sons Ryne (Danville Class of 2004) and Ty (Class of 2007).

“He knows so much,” says Ty of his father, who he now counts as an assistant as he heads into his fourth season as head coach at Cascade High School in Clayton, Ind., in 2019. “He dives into the rules and the minor details of coaching.”

“He also makes it enjoyable. You can have a good time (playing baseball). It’s great having him around everyday.”

Ty says his coaching approach is a mix of his former coaches.

Besides his father, there’s Danville basketball coach Brian Barber, Manchester College (now Manchester University) baseball coach Rick Espeset and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter baseball coach Dave Scott.

Barber has won 375 career games, including 336 in 19 seasons at Danville.

Espeset has led the Manchester Spartans for than two decades and a couple of NCAA Division III World Series appearances.

“He was not a big yeller,” says Foster of Espeset. “He would use charisma. There were little tics that you’ll never forget.”

Foster was a first baseman and designated hitter during his college days and was invited to spring training with the independent Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums.

Scott took Ritter to an IHSAA Class 2A state title in 2017. Foster was on his Raiders staff for two seasons before taking over the reins at Cascade.

Besides Rick Foster, Ty’s Cadets coaching staff includes Aaron Clark, Tim Horning, Corey Clark, Todd Blackburn, Mitch Duncan and Griffin Miller.

Aaron Clark is a former Danville coach. Horning works with Cascade’s pitchers. Corey Clark is Aaron’s son. Duncan played shortstop for Ty Foster at Cascade. Miller played for him at Ritter.

Rick Foster is still an industrial technology teacher and a head boys tennis coach and a boys basketball assistant at Danville.

Ty has watched older brother Ryne “fill up his resume” as a coach. He recently became an assistant at St. Charles Community College in Cottleville, Mo., after serving as a volunteer assistant at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

Ryne Foster has also been an assistant at Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College, Georgia Southwestern State University and Concordia Colllege in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was head coach of the Boonville, N.Y.-based Adirondack Trail Blazers in the New York Collegiate Baseball League and Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

Cousin Reed Foxworthy is the head baseball coach at Seeger (Ind.) High School. He is one of three triplets and is a son to a brother of Ty’s mother, Alice Foster.

Ty is grateful for the support of his mother.

“My mom is my biggest fan and has always been there,” says Ty Foster. “She never missed a game through high school and taking me to watch my dad coach after Little :eague games.

“She’s traveled far and wide when I was in college to see me play whenever she could. She’s helped me with my hitting when my dad wasn’t available and always been her kids’ biggest supporter. I wouldn’t of got to where I am with her being there.”

There is extra excitement around Cascade because a new turf baseball field is nearing completion.

The school will become the first in Hendricks County to put turf on the entire baseball field this fall (Danville has a turf infield and grass outfield). Cadet softball will also play on the carpet.

“We’ll be able to get in more games and practices,” says Ty Foster of the advantages of turf. “We can get out there and long toss instead of going to the auxiliary gym.”

Turf also means a smoother surface.

No more “The Cade claimed another victim today” or “The Cade’s not happy today.”

Ty, who spends his days doing housing inspections for a company in Carmel, Ind., is married to a kindergarten teacher. Katie (Hall) Foster teaches at Mill Creek East Elementary in Clayton. She played softball at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., and was head softball coach at Cascade.

Ty and Katie celebrated their second wedding anniversary in September.

Though plans call for a move to the Indiana Crossroads Conference in 2019-20, Cascade is now in the Western Indiana Conference.

The WIC is separated into divisions — Cascade, Brown County, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley in the East and Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo in the West.

WIC teams play within their division then play crossover playoff games (No. 1 in the East takes on No. 1 in the West etc.).

An IHSAA Class 2A school of about 450, Cascade is in a sectional grouping with Covenant Christian, Indianapolis Arlington, Indianapolis Washington, Indianapolis Shortridge, Park Tudor and Speedway.

The Cadets last won a sectional crown in 2005.

Cascade is on a balanced school calendar, meaning the Cadets get two weeks of spring break. Baseball games are not played until after the break.

By district rule, student-athletes can’t be be forced to miss vacation trips the first week, though Foster holds practices for those who don’t leave town.

Typically, the Cadets have a couple of weeks of preseason baseball practice.

The new IHSAA rule that allows coaches to work with their teams for two hours two days a week during a fall window, which closes Oct. 12 and re-opens the first week of December.

“The spirit of the rule is great,” says Foster. “We can actually get kids going and learn things.”

Cascade Middle School and Cascade Youth League (located in Amo) are feeders for the high school baseball program.

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Former long-time Danville (Ind.) Community High School baseball coach Rick Foster (left) is now on the Cascade High School coaching staff led by youngest son Ty Foster (left). Rick and Alice Foster’s oldest son, Ryne, coaches in college.

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Cascade High School head baseball coach Ty Foster (left) celebrates with Cadet Dylan Kottkamp during the 2018 season. The 2019 campaign will be Foster’s fourth leading the program.