Career path comes with adversity for Valparaiso U. assistant Winter

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Getting established as a college baseball coach can be a tough gig.

Just ask Kory Winter.

The Valparaiso (Ind.) University assistant is in his fifth season and the second as a full-time staffer. He was a volunteer his first three campaigns with the Crusaders.

“I did not collect a paycheck or have health insurance my first six or seven years of college baseball,” says Winter, who was on the staffs at Muskingum University (New Concord, Ohio) in 2013 and 2014 and Shippensburg (Pa.) University in 2015 before landing at Valpo. “You have to be willing to ride out the storm.”

While at Shippensburg and with his girl friend Dana in Cleveland, Winter stocked shelves 9 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Lowe’s before beginning his coaching day.

“I was working to coach,” says Winter.

In the summer of 2015, he moved to Cleveland and cleaned at chemical plants while sending out his baseball coaching resume.

Valpo head coach Brian Schmack posted a need for a volunteer with outfield knowledge. Winter was an outfielder and pitcher at Scioto High School in Dublin, Ohio, and at NCAA Division III Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio) and had experience instructing them as a head coach with the Ohio Elite travel organization as well as at D-III Muskingum and D-II Shippensburg and high school assistant stops at Dublin Coffman and Dublin Jerome.

“I didn’t think I’d have a chance to move into the Division I game,” says Winter. “I thank Coach Schmack for his willingness to open the resume and look at the cover letter.

“It’s been a life changer for me.”

Kory and Dana Winter have been married a little over two years and have house and a 14-month-old son named Kal.

Winter is now the recruiting coordinator and is in charge of hitters and outfielders.

“The head coach has so much on their plate with administrative stuff,” says Winter. “(Assistant) Casey Fletcher and I map out the game plan (for recruiting). What do we need to two or three years? How do they fit into our culture? We take Schmack’s vision and try to put that into practice.”

They are on the lookout for the under-recruited and tend to go after Midwestern players who understand what it means to play and practice in the cold and can relate to the coaches, who all hail from this part of the country.

Winter goes to see the recruits play and them stays in-contact by phone. It’s also his job to keep track of scholarships and determine what kind of value a student-athlete will bring to the private school.

“To make Valpo financially viable, they give athletic aid,” says Winter. “It’s much more affordable if you have good grades or test scores.

“It makes us more competitive in the recruiting process and more appealing to those families.”

That means a minimum 3.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and and ACT of 23 or better. Winter says the average on the baseball team is between 26 and 28, putting them above the 90 percentile.

“It’s nice about having smart kids,” says Winter. “They ask questions and process the game differently.”

As hitting coach, Winter works to get players to understand their strengths and weaknesses in the strike zone.

“We cater their approach to what they’re good at,” says Winter. “We use HitTrax data to build a case for why a guy should be looking middle-out or middle-in.”

For many, there is an adjustment in hitting at the college level.

“In high school, they might get multiple pitches to hit (per at-bat),” says Winter. “We want to get them to understand how they’re being pitched and when to be aggressive and when not to be. What is your plan?”

With the velocity at the D-I level, hitters must often anticipate the pitch out of the pitcher’s hand.

Hitters learn how to sit on pitches in certain counts. Winter says 2-0 should be a fastball, but they may see a 2-1 change-up or 3-2 curve ball.

Winter takes a very conservative approach to outfield play.

“We want to make the right play vs. the great one,” says Winter. “We want to hit every cut-off man. I don’t care if we have zero assists on the season.”

By missing the cut-off, the defense surrenders extra bases.

“Get the ball to the infielders as quickly and accurately as possible,” says Winter. “The right play makes the different to winning and losing ball games.”

To get outfielders reps, the Crusaders have braved the northwest Indiana cold and taken to the Brown Field football turf.

“We get outside whenever we possibly can,” says Winter. “We were out there in the snow. It’s not ideal.

“We don’t complain about it. That’s just the way it is.”

Valpo (1-2) opened the season Saturday, Feb. 15 at Western Kentucky. That was the first time the Crusaders saw live pitching outside. The Crusaders are at Louisville Friday through Sunday, Feb. 21-23. The first scheduled home game at Emory G. Bauer Field March 24 against Ball State. The first Missouri Valley Conference series is March 27-29 against Dallas Baptist at VU.

Winter graduated from Scioto in 2006. He played for Irish head coach Phil Callaghan, an Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee in 2008.

“He ran an extremely tight ship,” says Winter of Callaghan. “There was a certain standard that every player was held to. We had to sprint on and off the field. We’d even sprint from the bus to the dugout.

“They were small things that may sound crazy. But we’d really buy into the identity of the team and playing ‘the right way.’ That was the mentality and culture. I’m trying to implement that myself (as a coach).”

Winter played four seasons at Wittenberg, where Jay Lewis was the Tigers head coach and Rick White was the pitching coach.

“(Lewis) was an extremely good guy,” says Winter. “Now that I’m coaching college baseball, I look back and remember he was always at the field, mowing the lawn or throwing batting practice. It was total immersion. I really appreciated his work ethic and sweat equity.”

After receiving a degree in English and education from Wittenberg in 2010, Winter taught for a year at Groveport Madison High School and coached with 2004 OHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Tim Saunders at Dublin Coffman in 2011 and Chris Huesman at Dublin Jerome in 2012. In the summers of 2011, 2012 and 2013, Winter coached high schoolers for the Ohio Elite.

By this point, he decided he wanted to be college baseball coach rather than a teacher and hooked on as a graduate assistant at Muskingum on the staff of Muskies head coach Gregg Thompson.

“Coach T was very intense in a good way,” says Winter. “I had never coached under a guy who was just so passionate about winning.”

If Muskingum had a game at noon, Thompson was at the field several hours before that, getting things ready.

“It was a great learning experience for me,” says Winter, who is often on the job by 7 a.m. “You give 100 percent to whatever you’re doing.”

Matt Jones was the head coach at Shippensburg when Winter was with the Raiders and really paying his dues.

“I had to work my way trudging through the mud,” says Winter. “It’s the necessary evil of it.

“It builds some character when you work though some personal adversity.”

Valparaiso Crusaders @ Oklahoma Sooners
February 25, 2018 
Oklahoma defeated Valparaiso 3-2 (10)

Valparaiso (Ind.) University baseball assistant coach Kory Winter (right) talks with head coach Brian Schmack and other Crusaders coaches during the 2019 season. Winter is in his fifth season with Valpo in 2020. (Valparaiso University Photo)

Valparaiso Crusaders @ Oklahoma Sooners
February 25, 2018 
Oklahoma defeated Valparaiso 3-2 (10)Valparaiso (Ind.) University baseball assistant coach Kory Winter was an volunteer his first three seasons and is now in his fifth with the Crusaders overall. The Ohio native is the recruiting coordinator and leads hitters and outfielders. (Valparaiso University Photo)

Evansville Razorbacks promote accountability, communication, commitment

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 18U Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have been a force in the travel baseball world with four Pastime Tournaments national championships and a National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series runner-up finish.

The 2017 team went 40-0.

Established in 2002 by Jeremy Johnson, the Razorbacks have had 336 players sign on with college baseball programs and numerous players have been in pro ball.

“This program sets guys up not only in baseball, but their whole life,” says Johnson. “It’s a fraternity. You’re going to be a Razorback the rest of your life.

“It’s bigger than anybody, including me.”

Johnson is a 1993 Mater Dei graduate. He grew up spending Saturday mornings helping his father groom youth diamonds around Evansville. C.J. Johnson is a 2017 inductee into the Greater Evansville Sports Hall of Fame as a baseball administrator.

At 14, Jeremy severely hurt his right arm and learned how throw serviceably with his left. In high school, he was a successful cross country and track runner.

Johnson networks with college coaches and does his best to educate players and parents on the recruiting process and deciding on the best fit for them.

“My job is to help you find out your ‘why,’’ says Johnson. “What is driving you? If you don’t know that, you can get lost. You need to have a really good grasp on that. If you don’t and everything starts to go south, you’ll start panicking.”

And it doesn’t have to be NCAA Division I or bust. Some are best-suited by going the D-II, D-III, NAIA or junior college route.

“I’m completely over the fact that Division I is the best case scenario (for every player),” says Johnson. “You should pick a school where, if you didn’t play baseball any more, you wouldn’t want to transfer.

“It’s very, very personal thing for each kid. Look at schools that fit you personally. Start putting together legitimate ideas on what you know you want instead of what you think you want.

“High school is very status-orientedYou’re not doing it for your teammates. There’s a 50-50 shot you’ll meet your wife there.

“It’s way more than baseball.”

Johnson says he has watched the transfer portal blow up in recent years in part because of so many early commits (freshmen and sophomore are making verbal commitments these days) and players and parents not doing their due diligence on what they want and what a program has to offer.

“They may be good enough to be a tweener with D-I,” says Johnson. “But they could play more at D-II or go to D-III and be an All-American.

“We don’t want them to have regrets or at least minimize them.”

While he has been involved in most of the 336 college signings, Johnson doesn’t take credit. It’s the players with the talent.

“I’m not the reason any of my kid plays in college,” says Johnson. “I’m just a guy who goes to bat for them. My job is to market them. I’m an avenue.

“The kids are the ones that deserve everything. I didn’t throw a ball, catch a ball or hit it. I’m not the reason for the season.”

A junior college advocate, Johnson says those players tend to play with a chip on their shoulder. Six starters on the Razorbacks’ 2018  team went on to JC ball. The 2017 club was made up mostly of D-I commits.

“It saves money and keeps their options open,” says Johnson. “It makes you grind a little bit. You find out if you really love baseball if you go junior college.”

Johnson says the Razorbacks are well-represented in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference (John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley).

Johnson says parents don’t always receive personal feedback when they take their sons to showcases. They get the numbers, but not an idea of what that coaching staff thinks of the player and how they would fit in their program.

Players can go to showcase after showcase and the money spent can add up to the cost of a scholarship.

“Tell me what you’re interested in doing and let me market you,” says Johnson. He will do his best to have college coaches look at the player and let them know what they think.

“College recruiting always in flux,” says Johnson. “(Recruiters) don’t want to tell you yes or no. There’s a lot of maybes. That’s a frustrating thing. I tell parents to build an idea of where their kid really fits.”

In showcases or with private lessons, many times players are told over and over again how good they are.

“Some are honest about good things and bad things,” says Johnson. “There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism. You need it.”

Johnson sees his role with the Razorbacks as driven by relationships.

“I get to know the kids,” says Johnson. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with them.”

While many players come from southern Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky, there is no real limit and have come from several states away.

“I’m not afraid to ask anybody,” says Johnson. “We have the ability to house a few kids.”

Many players spend two seasons with the Razorbacks, which Johnson says averages 17 to 20 college commits per year. In any given year, a third to half of the squad goes into the summer uncommitted.

Among the 2019 high school graduates from Indiana schools on the ’19 summer team were Evansville North shortststop/second baseman Alex Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Austin shortstop/right-handed pitcher/third baseman Drew Buhr (Saint Louis University), Castle left-handed pitcher Blake Ciuffetelli (USI), Castle first baseman Brodey Heaton (Belmont University), Evansville Memorial right-handed pitcher Isaac Housman (USI) and Tecumseh outfielder Steven Molinet (USI).

There’s also shortstop/second baseman Alex Adams (Purdue University), catcher Garret Gray (Butler University), right-handed pitcher Trey Nordmann (Howard College in Texas) and left-handed pitcher/outfielder/first baseman Mark Shallenberger (University of Evansville).

Former Ben Davis High School catcher Zyon Avery (Ohio University), Decatur Central right-hander Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and right-hander Garret Simpson (Eastern Kentucky University) are among the recent Razorbacks now playing college baseball.

Razorback alums left-hander Dean Kiekhefer (Oakland Athletics), right-hander Derek Self (Washington Nationals) and outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Boston Red Sox) played at Triple-A in 2019. All three played at the University of Louisville. Kiekhefer appeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 and with Oakland in 2018.

There’s also former Backs Easton McGee and Stewart Ijames.

Right-hander McGee played for Bowling Green in the Tampa Bay Rays system in 2019.

Outfielder Ijames, a former U of L player and in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, was with the independent Kansas City T-Bones in 2019.

Clint Barmes, a Vincennes Lincoln High School graduate who recently went into the Indiana State University and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after a major league career, played for the Evansville Black Sox (1993-2001), which were picked up by the Razorbacks in 2002.

Johnson was an outfielder for the Jim Wittman-coached Black Sox in 1993-94. In a Black Sox alumni game, Johnson’s last pitch resulted in a Barmes home run.

“I hadn’t pitched in two years,” says Johnson. “Didn’t matter. Would happened on my best day.”

Former U of L catcher Jeff Arnold was signed by scout Kevin Christman and played in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-hander Morgan Coombs went to West Vigo High School and Ball State University then played independent ball.

Outfielder Sean Godfrey played at New Albany High School and Ball State before time in the Atlanta Braves system and indy ball.

First baseman Jon Hedges played at Indiana State.

Third baseman Kevin Hoef went to the University of Iowa and played indy ball.

Catcher Jeremy Lucas played at West Vigo and Indiana State before time in the Cleveland Indians system.

Black Sox right-hander Stephen Obenchain played at Evansville Memorial and the University of Evansville before stints in the Athletics system and independent ball.

First baseman Derek Peterson, who hails from New Jersey, went on to Temple University and played in Baltimore Orioles organization.

Black Sox right-hander Andy Rohleder played at Forest Park High School and the University of Evansville before tenures with the Florida Marlins organization and indy ball.

Right-hander P.J. Thomas, a Jeffersonville High School graduate who played at USI, was twice-drafted by the Red Sox and played indy ball.

Catcher Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State) played in the Red Sox organization.

Former Black Sox, Heritage Hills High School and University of Dayton catcher Mark Wahl was in the Orioles system.

While the Razorbacks run a full program with off-season training, Johnson says he is a realist and he knows that players have commitments to their hometown teams and work with their own hitting and pitching instructors. He doesn’t ask them to drive several hours to Evansville to hit them grounders.

“I’m not that full of myself,” says Johnson. “I have the utmost respect for high school programs.

“I love travel ball. But a large amount of travel ball is B.S. It’s such a money-driven situation. Travel ball — as a whole — is expensive for families with travel, hotels and all of that. We try to keep that cost down as low as we possibly can.”

When the 18U Razorbacks do travel, the team stays together in the same hotel.

Many of the players are getting close to going away to college. They get to experience curfews, team meetings and learn personal accountability. It’s an early look at their freshmen year and that first taste of freedom. They are responsible for their own laundry.

“The team runs the team,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot to be learned off the field until they go to college.”

Parents are encouraged treat the weekend like a getaway. All they have to do is attend the games and watch their sons play.

The organization expanded this off-season to 10 teams — 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, two 12U squads, 13U, 14U, 16U and 18U. 8U to 14U is high school prep. 15U to 18U is college prep.

According to Johnson, whose 18U assistant coaches are Bob Davis, Ryan Dills and Buddy Hales, the emphasis is on teaching player accountability at an early age, communication with parents, speed and strength conditioning and commitment to helping the person, then the player.”

Top 18U events in 2020 include June 12-14 in Midland, Ohio, June 18-21 in Louisville, Ky., June 26-28 in Midland, Ohio, June 30-July 1 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, July 5-9 at Perfect Game World Series (invitation only) in Hoover, Ala., and July 15-19 at the 18U Nationals in Indianapolis.

Jeremy and Christi Johnson married in 2013. There are three children — Seth (18), Ava (14) and Conner (13). Conner Johnson, now an eighth grader, was born in 2007, the same year the Razorbacks were NABF World Series runners-up.

“Spending summers with him with me is what ties it all together,” says Jeremy Johnson of time spent with Conner and Backs baseball.

EVANSVILLERAZORBACKSLOGO

The Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have placed 336 players in college baseball since 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks)

JEREMYJOHNSONEVANSVILLERAZORBACKS1

Jeremy Johnson (center) is the founder of the Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks travel baseball organization. The Razorbacks’ first season was in 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks Photo)

 

Kennedy joins Butler Bulldogs coaching staff

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Kennedy is back home again in Indiana after spending a few years coaching baseball in Florida.

The Lafayette native joined the staff at Butler University in Indianapolis in January. He is instructing catchers, infielders and hitters, helping pitching coach Ben Norton with recruiting, assisting with camps and clinics and office duties.

“It’s a group effort here,” says Kennedy. “We make sure we are all on the same page.”

Head coach Dave Schrage’s Bulldogs open the 2020 season Feb. 14-16 in Lexington, S.C., with two games each against North Carolina A&T and George Mason. Butler is a member of the Big East Conference.

Kennedy appreciates that Schrage values player development and promotes a family atmosphere.

“It’s about getting guys better and fundamentals,” says Kennedy of Schrage. “He’s a pitching and defense guy and believes in attention to details. He emphasizes base running, which a little bit of a lost art.

“We have a family feel within our clubhouse. He wants to make sure you get home and spend time with your kids. He knows how important that is, especially with the season right around the corner.”

Kennedy has has three children in West Lafayette. Son Karson Kennedy (16) is a junior catcher at Harrison High School, where Pat Lowrey is head coach. Daughter Emilyne (13) is a gymnast and a seventh grader at Battle Ground Middle School. Daughter Jolee (9) is a third grader at Battle Ground Elementary.

The 2018 and 2019 seasons saw Kennedy on the staff of Rick O’Dette at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He had served three different stints with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. ((2005, 2007-08, 2016-17). The school closed its doors after the 2017 season.

“Rick is phenomenal,” says Kennedy. “He believes in the importance of work ethic and that blue collar feel.

“It’s made (going to Butler) an easy transition for me. (O’Dette) was so family-oriented with the team. Players were caring for each other playing for each other. He knew the importance of team and not the ‘I’ factor. He demanded a lot, but you see the rewards of that.”

That’s the way it was at Saint Joseph’s, where alum O’Dette was head coach for 17 years.

When Kentucky Wesleyan College graduate Kennedy came to the Pumas, there was immediate acceptance.

“I’m one of them,” says Kennedy. “(O’Dette) is instilling that culture down at Saint Leo.”

Kennedy began his high school baseball career at Lafayette Central Catholic High School. He was bumped up from the junior varsity to the varsity, took a baseball to the face which required reconstructive surgery and ended his freshmen season early.

He landed a McCutcheon High School. As a senior second baseman, Kennedy was part of coach Jake Burton’s 1999 IHSAA Class 4A state championship team.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Assocation Hall of Famer’s expectations were high for Kennedy and the rest of the Mavericks.

“He saw a lot more in me in what I thought I could do — both as a person and a player,” says Kennedy of Burton. “Jake was great for me. I owe that man a lot. Without his influence, I definitely wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.”

Kennedy learned to never be truly satisfied as a player and has carried that into his coaching career, holding himself and his athletes to a high standard.

“You can always learn, always get better,” says Kennedy. “You see there’s little more in there (with players). You have to figure out a way to get them out of them.”

Burton expected his players to work hard, be good people, follow the rules and be accountable for themselves and their actions. They had to make good decisions or they couldn’t be a part of the McCutcheon program.

“That put me in the right direction,” says Kennedy. “It put me with a good group of friends that I still talk to today.”

Kennedy played one season for coach Todd Post at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and three at Kentucky Wesleyan — one for Greg McVey and two for Todd Lillpop.

McVey demanded much from his players and kept them on-task.

“He was a planner,” says Kennedy, who is among the Kentucky Wesleyan career leaders in fielding percentage and assists. “We knew everyday what we were doing. These are the goals of the day and this is what we want to accomplish.”

Like O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s, Lillpop became a college head coach at a young age and learned on the fly.

“He stressed the importance of working everyday and improving,” says Kennedy of Lillpop. “As a team, we had some success.”

The Owensboro-based KWC Panthers made their conference tournament for the first time in well over a decade and turned the program around.

Kennedy received his Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Kentucky Wesleyan in 2003. He began his coaching career as a KWC assistant in 2004.

After his first stop at Saint Joseph’s, he was an assistant to Bob Warn in the Hall of Famer’s last season leading the Indiana State University program.

“He cared so much for that place,” says Kennedy of Warn. “Everything he did was for the good of Indiana State baseball. His legacy there is going to be forever. Guys played hard for him and he was great to work for.

“As a young coach, you think you know more than you do. It’s good to keep your mouth shut and your ears open and you’re going to learn a lot more. (Warn) opened my eyes. There are a lot of different ways to do things.”

After his second tenure at Saint Joseph’s, Kennedy took over the reins at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. (2009-13). His first four teams went 49-9, 50-13, 43-11 and 40-20. The 2009 Cobras, featuring future Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Divison II World Series.

Kiermaier was primarily a shortstop when he came to Parkland. Kennedy, wishing to get some more repetitions for his infielders, asked Kiemaier to move to center field during a fall game. He later told him his path to the next level would be at that position.

Before being selected in the 31st round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Kiemaier was a two-time NJCAA All-American.

“His athleticism was unmatched,” says Kennedy of Kiermaier. “It was fun to watch him out there.”

From spring to fall of 2013, Kennedy was briefly an assistant at High Point (N.C.) University for head coach Chris Cozart.

With his parents in declining health, he decided to move back to the Midwest.

Kennedy knew Jeff Isom through Lafayette baseball circles and was introduced by Bobby Bell.

When Isom became manager of the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers, he invited Kennedy to be his hitting coach. He served in that role during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

“Pro ball is something that always intrigued me a little bit,” says Kennedy. “I checked it out for a couple years.

“I missed the college end of things.”

So he went back with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s.

And now he’s back in Indiana, doing his best to develop players at Butler.

MATTKENNEDYBUTLER

Matt Kennedy, a Lafayette, Ind., native, has joined the baseball coaching staff at Butler University in Indianapolis. His previous job was as an assistant at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. (Butler University Photo)

 

Iowa Cubs hire Stephens as stadium operations manager

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Stephens has gotten the call up to Triple-A baseball.

Stephens, a Goshen, Ind., native who graduated from Indiana University with a Sports Marketing and Management degree in May 2019, has accepted a stadium operations manager position with the Iowa Cubs, the top affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

A 2015 graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School in Benton, Ind., where he played baseball and basketball, Stephens returns to the team where he served two internships.

After graduation, Stephens went to work as stadium operations assistant with the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs. He worked for that franchise for a month before being offered the job in Des Moines, Iowa.

“It’s a good opportunity at such a young age,” says Stephens, 23. “I’m glad they reached out to me.

“I’ve always wanted to work in baseball. I enjoy minor league baseball. It’s more relaxed and a family atmosphere. There’s something about baseball that keeps fans coming.”

Baseball has always been important in the Stephens family. Bryan and Holly often planned their vacations with Josh and younger sister Jenna around baseball.

When Josh was 6, he and his father set a goal of attending games at all 30 Major League Baseball parks. When Josh was 17, that goal was achieved.

“Sometimes sister and mom would tag along if national parks were involved,” says Stephens.

A lifelong Cubs fan, he ranks Wrigley Field as his favorite MLB venue.

“As a Cubs fan, I’m pretty loyal to Wrigley,” says Stephens of park in Chicago’s north side. “It’s the nostalgia.”

His next two choices are Fenway Park in Boston and PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Stephens has not been to too many minor league parks.

“I really like Four Winds (Field in South Bend),” says Stephens. “The (seating on the) roof tops are really cool.”

Principal Park is the home of the Iowa Cubs.

The way Iowa does it, stadium operations has a manager, three directors and about 25 interns during the season.

Stadium ops is responsible for all facility repairs and for executing off-season events like weddings and concerts.

During the season, game day is broken into three parts.

The morning shift cleans the seating bowl with blowers and hoses.

At game time, it’s about executing between-innings promotions and fan engagement.

“I like being outside and doing the grit work,” says Stephens, who has worked on the golf course grounds crew at Maplecrest Country Club in Goshen. “You get to learn people’s stories. You’re not always behind the desk.”

Stephens says it always helps Iowa when a major leaguer comes to Iowa on a rehabilitation assignment.

“We get more fans,” says Stephens.

After the game, stadium operations begins preparation for the next day and there’s trash removal and lock-up.

One popular post-game promotion is offering fans the opportunity to come on the field watch “Field of Dreams” on the video board.

After all this is Iowa. One one family vacation, the Stephens landed at the site where the 1989 movie was shot near Dyersville. It just so happened that star Kevin Costner was there for a reunion and a young Josh got to play catch with “Ray Kinsella.”

Stephens is due to return to Iowa the week of Feb. 17. Meanwhile, he and fiancee Lauren Lehr (a 2015 Goshen High School graduate and kindergarten teacher at Prairie View Elementary in Goshen) are finalizing plans for their June wedding at Tippecanoe Lake Country Club in Leesburg, Ind.

The Iowa Cubs are scheduled to open the home portion of the 2020 Pacific Coast League season April 14.

Before then, stadium operations will be performing tasks like turning on the plumbing, removing snow and putting up signage on the outfield wall.

LAURENLEHRJOSHSTEPHENSIOWA

Lauren Lehr (left) and Josh Stephens share a moment at Principal Park in Des Moines, Iowa. Stephens has been hired by the Iowa Cubs as a stadium operations manager. Lehr and Stephens, both of Goshen, Ind., are engaged. The wedding is scheduled for June 2020.

 

Indiana State Hall of Famer Grapenthin enjoys baseball from the business side

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Midwest weather didn’t always allow for ideal training conditions.

But that didn’t stop Indiana State University coach Bob Warn from fielding competitive baseball teams back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Dick Grapenthin knows because he was there.

Grapenthin has been a sporting goods executive for the better part of the past 30 years. But as a right-handed pitcher from Iowa, he began his college experience at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College then toed the rubber for the ISU Sycamores in 1979 (leading the Missouri Valley Conference champions and NCAA regional qualifiers with 45 strikeouts) and 1980 (pacing the squad with nine wins, 53 strikeouts and 76 innings).

Grapenthin then went into pro ball and made it to the majors with the Montreal Expos.

“Bob had a lot of success bringing in blue collar grinders,” says Grapenthin of Hall of Famer Warn. “We had a really, really nice team and great work habits.”

To get time in the physical education center in the winter, the team often practiced from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. then players went to their 8 a.m. classes.

Warn was very organized.

“We’d use every part of an indoor facility for some type of drills,” says Grapenthin. “We always had something going on.”

Grapenthin, who was inducted into the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame as an individual in 2016 after being honored for his involvement with the 1986 College World Series team in 2002, remembers ISU traveling to Florida to play the vaunted Miami Hurricanes.

“We didn’t have the talent those guys had, but we were very well-schooled in fundamentals,” says Grapenthin. “You had to do that. You couldn’t play as much (in the north) because it was cold out.”

On nicer days, the team would practice on the turf at Memorial Stadium (football).

Mitch Hannahs was on the 1986 ISU team and is now head coach. Grapenthin saw the team play last season at Vanderbilt, the team that went on to the win the College World Series. While the Commodores had the lights-out pitching arms, he saw more skill from the Sycamores.

“Mitch has done such a great job,” says Grapenthin.

After his playing days at ISU concluded in 1980, Grapenthin signed with the Expos as a minor league free agent. He came back to Terre Haute in the fall and winter to work out with and coach the Sycamores.

He made his Major League Baseball debut in 1983. He split the 1984 and 1985 seasons between Montreal and the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, managed by Buck Rodgers and then Felipe Alou.

“A lot of those guys are still there,” says Grapenthin, noting that former president and chairman Max Schumacher remains involved with the club and radio voice Howard Kellman is still calling games for the Tribe — only its now downtown at Victory Field and not on 16th Street at Bush Stadium.

Grapenthin’s playing career concluded in 1989 and he spent two seasons as pitching coach to Bill Wilhelm at Clemson University.

Much of his focus with his pitchers was on mechanics.

“I focused a lot on trying to try to get kids in a position to make repeatable actions and be consistent,” says Grapenthin. “I taught from the feet up.”

Grapenthin learned much about baseball from Warn and Wilhelm. He also found out about how tough it can be to coach.

“That is a very hard lifestyle,” says Grapenthin. “Coaches make an unbelievable amount of sacrifices to be really good.

“I wanted more of a controlled family life.”

Dick and Cindy Grapenthin live in Alpharetta, Ga., north of Atlanta, and have three children — two daughters and a son. Alex is a Clemson graduate. Kristi is an Auburn University graduate. Trevor Grapenthin is a economics major and baseball player at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

Cindy Grapenthin holds a doctorate in psychology from Indiana State and has a individual and family psychology practice as well as being an assistant professor of psychology at Brenau University in Gainesville, Ga.

Dick Grapenthin earned his Master of Business Administration degree from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in 1993.

He worked for Easton for seven years then Mizuno for seven. In 2015, he started his own sports management and consulting business — BoneChip Enterprises — and consulted for Louisville Slugger for three threes then spent another nine with Mizuno.

He started PBPro (PlayersBrandPro) two years ago. The company makes custom game gloves and infield trainers ranging from $120 to $300. Infield guru and top instructor Ron Washington teaches with the PBPro WashDonutTrainer and 9.5-inch PBPro WashTrainer.

Grapenthin appears at MLB Winter Meetings clubhouse show, American Baseball Coaches Association trade show, state coaches clinics, spring training and at grass roots events around the Atlanta area.

“I love working with people who are passionate about the game,” says Grapenthin. “It’s a lot of fun.

“I’ve done that basically my whole life. It’s like you’re not going to work.”

Why gloves?

“I wanted to do something unique,” says Grapenthin. “There’s not a lot of people focused on baseball/softball training gloves at a high end.”

He says one of the strengths of company is its knowledge of production and factories.

“I knew people in that industry and I just kind of like baseball gloves,” says Grapenthin. “I enjoy making nice stuff.”

Grapenthin does not consider himself to be a designer, but he does bring ideas to craftsmen and they make the adjustments in patterns and gloves. He relays feedback from players an coaches.

“There are always ways we can make gloves better,” says Grapenthin.

The PBPro website offers a custom feature that allows the buyer to build their own glove.

With 18 different thread colors and many webs and leathers, the options go on and on and on.

For Grapenthin, the game of baseball has to be fun.

And fun is what he’s having after all these years.

DICKGRAPENTHIN

Dick Grapenthin, an Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Famer, pitched for the Montreal Expos 1983-85. He has long been a sporting goods executive and is the founder of BoneChip Enterprises and PBPro.

 

Christman sees baseball through a scout’s eyes

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Christman has been in professional baseball for well over half of his 54 years. He signed his first pro contract as a teenager.

At the end of last summer, Noblesville, Ind., resident Christman concluded a 13-year stint as a scout for the San Francisco Giants and has three World Series rings to show for it. As an area scout, his territory included Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. He also coached at Giants Fall Scout Team that included several players eventually selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Ryan Campbell, Garrett Christman, Harrison Freed, Cory Malcom, Connor Mitchell, Mitch Roman, Tanner Tully, Nolan Watson.

While he is assessing his next move, Christman is helping out Sue and Chris Estep at Round Tripper Sports Academy.

“I’m giving back to the game,” says Christman, who has served as a general manager, coach and advisor on curriculum, facilities and the baseball industry over the years at the place where sons Garrett and Connor Christman trained and played for the Indiana Mustangs as well as Noblesville High School’s 2014 IHSAA Class 4A state champions, which were recently inducted with the NHS Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. “I’m giving back to the program. I’ve always been available for them.”

Christman went to Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif., and was a 6-foot-3 catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies and Giants systems before beginning his scouting career on the West Coast with the Milwaukee Brewers and joined the Giants player evaluation staff in 2006.

Along the way, the Midwest became his territory and he and wife Linda moved their family to central Indiana.

Christman has watched technology grow and become a big part of player development.

“It’s changed strength level opportunities,” says Christman. “We understand nutrition and what’s out there to use.

“There’s still a lot of unproven aspects of the technology. The game’s the game. But you don’t leave any stone unturned. You use all resources.”

Chistman uses technology, but he has long employed his evaluation and personal skills to find prospects and to see what makes them tick.

“My job was to always bet on a heartbeat,” says Christman. “With what we were spending on players, that’s just as important. We can’t lose sight of that.”

Christman studies players. Once they pass the eye test, he goes in-depth.

“What has he learned? What has he not learned?,” says Christman. “I could almost be like an FBI agent.”

Like other scouts, Christman would project a player’s potential to get to the majors.

“It’s all conjecture,” says Christman. “I think he can do this.

“It’s like a lump a clay you can mold.”

Only a small percentage of players who enter the system will ever have a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

“It’s a very difficult process,” says Christman. “Eventually, physical talents become similar.”

Things like make-up often make the difference between those who break into the majors and those that don’t.

That’s why scouts like Christman will work hard to find and sign the best players.

“I’m a winner,” says Christman. “It’s a competitive business.”

The proving grounds in baseball is at the high school and college levels.

Christman says many big leaguers were signed out of high school. But the latest trend is to sign college players.

“(Colleges can) develop them three years longer,” says Christman. “(Professional teams tend to) go with a proven track record. History will prevail. That’s what’s driving the sport now. There will be another adjustment later.”

Of course, not all big leaguers are known on the national level by the time they’re 16 and performing in showcases.

“One of the joys of scouting is finding that one guy who’s not in the mainstream,” says Christman.

That’s the story of Adam Duvall, a graduate of Butler Traditional High School in Louisville who played at Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville, made his Major League Baseball debut with the Giants and played with the Cincinnati Reds 2015-18 and the Atlanta Braves in 2018-19. He was a corner infielder in college and has been mostly a left fielder in the bigs.

“His signing was not analytically-driven,” says Christman of Duvall. “He made the game look easy. He had better than average makeup.

“He’s a worker. It’s the grass roots story of a champion.”

MLB has been talking about shrinking the minor leagues, possibly a contraction of 25 percent of teams. If that happens, what would it look like?

With rookie leagues decreased or eliminated, Christman says its likely that players with the least amount of experience would remain in an extended spring training setting before going to Class A ball.

“They will keep players in the complex longer and there will be a higher revolving door at the top,” says Christman. “Either they’re big league players or they’re not.

“It’ll be a little more hands-on at a younger level.”

Noting “it’s all about spots,” Christman says it will harder to enter into baseball at the lower level.

As it stands now, minor leaguers train and play with their organizations from March to September and then are essentially on their own until the next spring.

Christman says a streamlined affiliated baseball could see teams conducting mini-camps throughout the year kind of like OTA’s in football.

KEVINCHRISTMANWSTROPHY

Kevin Christman poses with the World Series trophy. The Noblesville, Ind., resident won three World Series rings as a scout with the San Francisco Giants.

GIANTSWSRINGS

Kevin Christman earned three World Series rings as a scout for the San Francisco Giants. The Noblesville, Ind., resident has been in pro baseball for more than half his life.

 

Fundamentals key for Brumbaugh’s Fort Wayne Northrop Bruins

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fundamental defense.

Deep pitching.

Timely hitting.

These are the main goals of the baseball program at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, where alum Matt Brumbaugh is entering his ninth season as head coach in 2020.

“We will play small ball and try to hit the ball gap-to-gap,” says Brumbaugh. “We run the bases. We hit-and-run. At the higher levels you hardly see it at all. We probably use it more than most teams.”

Brumbaugh will take a hitter that may be struggling at the plate and ask them to hit-and-run.

“They can go up there thinking about nothing but putting the bat on the ball,” says Brumbaugh.

A 1985 Northrop graduate who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chris Stavreti, Brumbaugh was the starting second baseman and lead-off hitter on the Bruins’ 1983 state championship team. He was first-team all-Summit Athletic Conference, first-team all-area and second-team all-state in 1984. He is among Northrop’s leaders in career (104) and single-season (46 in 1984) for base on balls.

“It was a great opportunity for me to play for a coach who really stressed fundamentals,” says Brumbaugh of Stavreti. “He was a fiery guy who wanted to get the best out of every player he coached.”

Brumbaugh appreciates that Stavreti allowed him to immerse himself in every aspect of coaching as a Bruins assistant.

“He helped me to develop my overall skills as a coach,” says Brumbaugh, who sports a career record is 160-79 with four SAC titles.

In 2016, Northrop earned a sectional championship and Brumbaugh was IHSBCA Regional Coach of the Year.

Northrop has played on its current field since 1982. Since 1999, it’s been known as Stavreti Field. A project was recently completed on Stravreti Clubhouse, a structure with concession stand, rest rooms and coaches office on the first floor and a 37-stall locker room and press box on the second level.=

The field does not have lights. The diamond is sometimes in the flight path of planes flying in or out of nearby Fort Wayne International Airport.

One of Brumbaugh’s Northrop teammates was Eric Wedge, who went on to play and manage in the majors and is now head coach at Wichita State University.

“When he was a player, he was such a hard-nosed, goal-driven person,” says  Brumbaugh. “He was a freshmen playing at the varsity level and had goals and ambitions beyond high school baseball.

“I’m really happy for him he’s back in the game at Wichita State, where he won a College World Series. It’s going to be a challenge. But he’s the kind of guy who can rise to challenge. You could see that coming from a young age.”

Brumbaugh and Wedge has stayed in-contact over the years and he has been known to visit Northrop players when he’s in Fort Wayne.

A 1990 graduate of Huntington (Ind.) College, Brumbaugh was a first-team all-Mid-Central Conference shortstop 1987-89 and first-team all-NAIA district shortstop in 1988 and 1989, playing for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Mike Frame.

After college, Brumbaugh played for Crumback-Symons, a five-time Indiana state champion in Stan Musial baseball. The 1996 team placed third at the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series.

Brumbaugh was a Northrop assistant coach 1990-97. The 1997 Bruins were a Final Four team in the final year of single-class baseball in Indiana.

From 1998-2005, Brumbaugh was an assistant to Lance Hershberger at Indiana Tech. He was the three-time acting head coach at the NAIA World Series. The Warriors won the NAIA World Series in 1998.

Brumbaugh was Hershberger’s assistants at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School 2007-10.

“He’s one of the best teachers of the game. He’s a stickler for details,” says Brumbaugh of Hershberger, who started the baseball program at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne. “He’s a master of all aspects of the game. He’s a tremendous coach. You can’t learn enough from him.

“He’s intense, but he gets his point across.”

Brumbaugh leads a Northrop coaching staff that features Gary Gatchell (who works with hitters), former big leaguer Dustan Mohr (outfielders, base runners and hitters), Jeremy Downs (infielders), Chad Kohli pitchers), Ben Kline (infielders) and Caleb Wynn (catchers) at the varsity level. Mason Neuman is the head junior varsity coach and is assisted by Trevor Snyder and Northrop graduate David Keating.

It’s a big staff, especially considering that Northrop usually has 25 to 30 players for its two squads.

“Only two are paid and the rest are volunteers,” says Brumbaugh. “They love the game and they love the program.”

In recent years, Northrop has sent players on to college programs. Among them are 2017 Gatorade Indiana Baseball Player of the Year Garrett Schoenle to the University of Cincinnati. Ben Yoss went to Rose-Hulman Institute, Anthony Miller to the University of Saint Francis and Mike Snyder, Jack Hayden and Braden Klinedinst to Indiana Tech.

Current senior Jackson Foote has committed to Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

Northrop (enrollment around 2,100) plays 14 SAC games against Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead.

Most are home-and-home series in the same week or doubleheaders with the teams trading last at-bats. One of the Northrop-Snider games is slated as part of the Parkview Sports Medicine Series at Parkview Field on April 21.

Non-conference opponents include Bellmont, Carroll, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell.

The Bruins are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Carroll, DeKalb, East Noble and Snider. Northrop has won 15 sectional titles — the last in 2016. Besides being state champions in 1983, the Bruins were state runners-up in 1981.

Over the years, St. Joe Little League and Wallen Baseball, which serve players up to age 14, have been a feeder system for Northrop though more and more players are going the travel baseball route.

Matt and Karen Brumbaugh have been married for 22 years and have two daughters at Indiana University – Jensen (20) and Kendall (18).

MATTBRUMBAUGH

Matt Brumbaugh, a 1985 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School graduate, enters his ninth season as the Bruins head baseball coach in 2020.