Bogner keeping the bar set high for Highland Trojans baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tradition is an important concept for Highland (Ind.) High School baseball.

“We take a lot of pride in wearing our ‘H’ on our chest,” says John Bogner, who enters his sixth season as Trojans head coach and the 23rd in the program in 2019. “ We remember the kids who played at Highland previously. We want to have solid program that everyone should at least have on their radar.”

The 2018 Trojans went 22-8 and placed second to eventual IHSAA Class 3A state champion Andrean in the Northwest Crossroads Conference after posting a 21-8 mark in 2017.

Bogner (pronounced BOAG-ner) was hired at Highland as a math teacher and has coached football, wrestling and baseball at various levels. He was the head freshmen baseball coach his first five springs then a varsity assistant for 12.

That was under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dan Miller, who amassed more than 600 wins, nine sectional titles, four regionals and one semistate and sent dozens of players on to college baseball from 1982-2013. Two of Miller’s former players — outfielder Terry Terzarial and left-handed pitcher Jordan Minch — were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“It’s hard to replace a Hall of Fame coach,” says Bogner. “But we try to keep the bar as he set it.”

Bogner says he also appreciated Miller’s organization, attention to detail, his ability to handle kids and his game strategy.

Two members of the Highland Class of 2018 — catcher Nick Anderson (Kankakee, Ill., Community College) and third baseman Damen Castillo (Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.) — on to college diamonds. Current senior right-handed pitcher Jordan Siska is committed to the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill.

To get some exposure for players and to give some a taste for travel, Highland will play in the early-season Super Prep Series hosted by Louisville Ballard.

Bogner asks his players to be focused on the field, take a disciplined approach at the plate and throw strikes with command on the mound.

“We want to do everything right,” says Bogner. “My players say, ‘you’re pretty old-fashioned.’

“I take that as a compliment.”

Depending upon the year, Highland generally has 45 to 55 players filling varsity, junior varsity and freshmen rosters.

That means about 16 to 18 with the varsity. Sometimes they rotate on road trips because of the capacity of activity buses.

“Our kids are good about knowing their roles,” says Bogner, who keeps his bench players active with scorebooks and spray charts and as bullpen catchers etc. “Highland’s always had really good kids. It’s made my job easier.”

This year, 22 sophomores indicated their interest in playing baseball for the Royal Blue and Gold.

The 2019 coaching staff will have Matt Bugajski and Bryan Gordon assisting with the varsity and Sam Michel leading the junior varsity. Volunteers at the JV and freshmen levels are Brian Lukich, Nik Mason and Will Kerber. A head freshmen coach is being sought.

The Trojans play on a on-campus diamond that sits along 41st Street. A donation by long-time Highland American Legion Post 180 manager George Bizoukas is bringing lights to the facility.

“This gives us some flexibility for practice times,” says Bogner. “And we can now host a sectional at the high school.”

Highland is in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Lake Central, Lowell and Munster, the host for many years. The Trojans last won a sectional title in 2000.

Besides Highland and Andrean, the Northwest Crossroads Conference includes Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster. The loop plays 10 games with home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Bogner’s high school program is fed by Highland Little League and Highland Babe Ruth. He estimates about a third of his players play travel baseball.

“You have to play int he summer to beat schools like Lake Central and Munster,” says Bogner.

The 2019 season will mark the third that the IHSAA has adopted a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“We’ve adapted to it,” says Bogner. “We were never guilty of blowing kids’ arms out (when the rule was 10 innings every three days). We used a lot of common sense.”

Bogner says he recently sent a letter to IHSBCA leadership lamenting that there are coaches out there that don’t show common sense with their pitches.

“You have to trust that your coach knows what’s going on and looks out for you,” says Bogner.

Prior to the rule and even since it has been put in place, Bogner has built up his pitchers arms in the winter. He has them working on pitch sequences and pitch-outs.

“By the end end of February bullpens, our goal is to be up to 80 pitches,” says Bogner. “But I don’t want my guys touching a baseball in December as far as throwing goes. You need to rest.”

This fall, the Trojans that were available to practice took part in a long toss program then players broke into positions. Bogner was coaching football, so practices were usually held late.

Bogner is a 1990 graduate of Griffith (Ind.) High School, where he played baseball for coach Jim Anderson.

“He taught us a lot about the game and its nuances,” says Bogner. “He wanted us to play with class. ‘Don’t play bush league’ was something he often said. He was a very good coach. I don’t know if I’d be where I am without him.”

Anderson did not want his players focusing on their statistics.

“He’d say, ‘play the game right and the rest will take care of itself,” says Bogner, who went on to play two seasons as a catcher and designated hitter at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, Mich.

Bogner recalls playing catch with Roadrunners coach Courtney Jasiak at the family cabin on Gravel Lake in Lawton, Mich., before committing to the school.

Jasiak had coached future big league star Derek Jeter at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School.

“I was like a sponge with that guy,” says Bogner of Jasiak. “He made me into a technician.”

Purdue University Calumet (now part of Purdue University Northwest) did not have a baseball team when Bogner went there to finish his degree.

Bogner did his student teaching at Calumet High School, where baseball head coach Woody Feeler (who had been his American Legion coach when he was in high school) let him run the show.

“It was like I was an associate head coach,” says Bogner. “I was neck deep.”

In the fall of 1996, he was hired at Highland and has been there ever since.

John is the middle son of Hammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute and Purdue University graduate Jack Bogner and Pam Schuhrke (her husband is Jim). Older brother Jeff lives in St. Louis and younger brother James is in Merrillville, Ind.

Married for 19 years, John and Mandy Bogner have two sons. Justin Bogner is a junior football, wrestling and baseball athlete at Highland. Jason Bogner is a Highland Middle School grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.

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John and Mandy Bogner have been married for 19 years. John is the head baseball coach at Highland (Ind.) High School. He also teaches math and coaches football and wrestling.

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John Bogner (left) and oldest son Justin Bogner share a moment on the football field as assistant coach and player. John Bogner is head baseball coach and Justin Bogner a player for Highland (Ind.) High School’s baseball program.

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Jason Bogner is the youngest son of John and Mandy Bogner. His father is head baseball coach at Highland (Ind.) High School. Jason is a seventh grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.

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John Bogner is entering his 23rd season as a coach in the Highland (Ind.) High School baseball program — the sixth as head coach — in 2019.

 

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Scout, instructor Farrell appreciates life lessons learned through baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Farrell identifies baseball talent for a living.

As an area scout for the Kansas City Royals, the Indianapolis resident estimates that he logs 60,000 or more miles a year seeing the best players available from his territory — Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and western Pennsylvania.

His goal is to see a game each day from the start of the college season in mid-February to the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in early June.

To give Royals senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager Dayton Moore a thorough evaluation of players, Farrell measures more than on-field tools.

“I want to paint a picture of who the guy is if you never laid your eyes on him,” says Farrell, who has been a part of professional baseball since 1991. “I have conversations with moms and dads and his high school coach, summer coach, friends and girlfriend. I gather as much information as possible.”

If the young man participates in another sport, that becomes part of Farrell’s player portrait.

He looks to see how the player interacts with his teammates and how he handles failure.

“Who is he the next at-bat or next pitch?,” says Farrell. “I’m evaluating as many pieces of a person as I can.”

Farrell appreciates working for an organization that wants top-shelf players and also cares about the whole person.

“Working for the Royals is super interesting,” says Farrell. “Dayton Moore wants players who will be good husbands, good fathers, good sons and good men.”

Farrell appreciates the life lessons he has learned from his baseball mentors and applies them in his scouting and as a instructor/coach. He teaches pitching to all ages at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind., and works closely with the Indiana Mustangs 16U and 17U teams, which are run by Chris Estep.

He says sports can teach so many lessons — things like being a good teammate, competing for the guy next to you, discipline, effort, preparation and competition.

“I hope I’m giving them a baseball foundation with the ability to have applicable life skills,” says Farrell. “Some of it has to be about your transparency. You need to be humble enough to say to a player, ‘I wasn’t very good at that at your age’ or ‘that was my mistake.’

“It’s a combination of a bunch of stuff. You hope people value it.”

That’s why he’s happy to support Rob Barber with The BASE Indianapolis, a not-for-profit group that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

“Hopefully, we’re offering guys a chance to get into college and further expectations for themselves,” says Farrell.

Born in Logansport, Ind., Farrell got his organized baseball start on the youth diamonds there and played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr., and the Berries of Logansport High School.

“Coach Turner was the best single coach that I had,” says Farrell, a 1987 Logansport graduate. “What I learned him was fairness. You get exactly what you earn in this life. Nothing was ever given.”

A sense of entitlement was not even an issue.

Turner was not a yeller and screamer, but he got his point across.

“He was one of most laid back people I’ve ever met and that fit my personality,” says Farrell.

A road game at West Lafayette and the bus ride home sticks in Farrell’s memory banks. The Berries won, but did not play well or act the way Turner expected.

“We clowned around too much,” says Farrell. “All he said to us: ‘you guys thoroughly embarrassed me with the way you played.’”

Not another word was spoken the rest of the trip.

Logansport was a perennial state powerhouse back in the 1980’s. The Berries won 10 sectionals, four regionals, one semistates and state runner-up finish (1989) during the decade.

The best player in Farrell’s eyes was John Nies.

“He was the best high school shortstop everywhere we went,” says Farrell, who would go from Logansport to Indiana State University along with twins Danny and Dennis Frye.

At ISU, Farrell formed a lasting friendship with teammate Mitch Hannahs (now head coach of the Sycamores) and learned “core life principles” from head coach Bob Warn.

“They were enjoyable lessons and very valuable in making me who I am today,” says Farrell of things emphasized by IHSBCA and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Warn.

One of those was preparation.

“When you step onto a campus, you better be ready to work your tail off,” says Farrell. “I also learned about believing in who I am.”

A left-handed pitcher who also played first base, center field and other positions, Farrell was a Collegiate Baseball Newspaper All-America selection in 1991. That year, he signed as a minor league free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers. The southpaw pitched six seasons in the Brewers organization (1991-96), reaching Triple-A 1993-96. He was the system’s Pitcher of the Year in 1993. He also also played in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Taiwan.

He became a Brewers scout in 1998 and was with that position until joining the Royals in 2014.

Farrell, 49, has three children — Roni (25), Brianna (22) and Isaiah (13). Father Larry lives in the Logansport area. Mother Mary is in Arkansas. He also has two sisters, one half sister and one half brother.

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Mike Farrell (right), a Kansas City Royals area scout and baseball instructor/coach living in Indianapolis, poses with daughters Brianna (left) and Roni.

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Mike Farrell (left, a Kansas City Royals area scout and baseball/instructor living in Indianapolis, spends time with oldest daughter Roni.

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Mike Farrell is an area scout with the Kansas City Royals and an instructor/coach at Roundtripper Sports Academy and with the Indiana Mustangs. He is a Logansport, Ind., native who played at Indiana State University and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Maloney talks about role as ABCA president, Ball State baseball head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The American Baseball Coaches Association will stage its 75th annual convention Jan. 3-6, 2019 in Dallas. Outgoing ABCA president Rich Maloney will be there to lead off the event.

The Ball State University head baseball coach has served the ABCA in various capacities, including his time on the executive committee. He was fourth, third, second and first vice president prior to his year as president.

Prior to that, he was NCAA Division I baseball committee chairman for six years.

“It’s a journey, honor and a privilege,” says Maloney, who heads into his 24th season as a head coach, including his 14th at BSU, in 2019. “The goal of the ABCA is to enhance baseball at all levels.”

Maloney has gotten a chance to rub shoulders with some of the most accomplished coaches in the country.

“These guys have grown the game and they did it for the love of the game,” says Maloney. 54. “When they started there wasn’t very much money in the game.

“It’s very meaningful. These guys just care about the future of baseball.”

Continuing as a board of directors member, Maloney will have the chance to be part of a body that serves as the “voice” of college baseball.

Maloney, who got his coaching start as a Western Michigan University assistant to ABCA Hall of Famer Fred Decker, has watched the organization experience explosive growth during his time as an ABCA member.

Dave Keilitz, also an ABCA Hall of Famer, led the association for many years and now son Craig Keilitz and his staff do the job.

“(ABCA Executive Director) Craig Keilitz took us into the technology and social media frontier,” says Maloney. “Just watching it grow has been amazing.

“Our game is growing nationally at the college level. You can see this through investments in so many new stadiums across the country.”

Other positives are the popularity of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., where the ABCA executive committee meets before taking in the games, the increased number of college players being drafted by Major League Baseball and the academic progress reports of baseball players.

If the 2018 convention in Indianapolis is any indication, 6,000 or more coaches are expected at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center for the world’s biggest baseball convention. There will be numerous presentations, meetings, award presentations and trade show.

Maloney sees the convention — along with other ABCA-partnered platforms like regional Barnstormers Clinics, Baseball ACE Community Clinics, professional development/continuing education credits, podcasts, videos, publications and USA Baseball Education — as opportunities for coaches to learn.

“Everybody is trying to make everybody else better,” says Maloney. “People are so willing to share information. There are no hidden agendas.

“There’s always something you can take away and add value to what you do.”

Each year on the executive committee carries different duties. During his year as second vice president, Maloney was charged with getting the college speakers and being emcee for the ABCA Convention in Anaheim, Calif.

Maloney says there are three items that the ABCA would like the NCAA to address for  Division I baseball — adding a third full-time paid assistant coach position, pace of play and the recruiting calendar.

“The challenge in moving the game forward is always resources,” says Maloney, who notes that D-I baseball is behind other sports in the ratio of paid coaches to number of athletes. At present, a head coach and two paid assistants are allowed to lead a squad of 35 players.

“It’s important for the game and future development of our young coaches to get another paid position paid,” says Maloney, who notes that the volunteer coach is not paid outside of running camps and is not allowed to be on the road recruiting. The recruiting coordinator spends much of his time on the road. “Student-athletes need to have another full-time coach who can be around.”

In surveys of the membership, Maloney has seen that the majority want to add another coach. That’s true even with the programs that may struggle finding the funds to pay for that position.

Maloney’s 2018-19 coaching staff includes full-time assistants Dustin Glant (pitching coach) and Blake Beemer (recruiting coordinator) and volunteer assistant Ray Skjold in addition to operations assistant Nick Swim and strength and condition coach Bill Zenisek.

While Maloney considers himself a baseball purist, he can also see why people — particularly those watching on TV — are concerned with the pace of play.

“Games are getting really, really long and it’s hard to keep people’s attention,” says Maloney. “It behooves us to be under 3:00.”

Some of the ways that conferences have attempted to shave minutes off contests include pitch clocks and automatic intentional walks (no need to throw the four pitches).

The ABCA formed a committee to put forth a proposal to shorten the D-I recruiting calendar and Maloney expects it to achieve traction with the NCAA.

For 2018-19, recruiting contact periods are Aug. 1-26, Sept. 14-Nov. 11 and March 1-July 31 with dead periods Nov. 12-15 and Jan. 3-6 and quiet periods Aug. 27-Sept. 13, Nov. 16-Jan. 2 and Jan. 7-Feb. 28.

“The recruiting calendar should be shortened,” says Maloney. “Kids that want to go to college feel they should continue to go to camps and showcases. If we short calendar, they can have some time off and we can save their arms.”

Maloney notes that the reason that people get into the coaching profession is to have an impact on young lives. It’s not easy to do that when you’re not there.

Shortening the calendar would also allow the recruiting coordinator to spend more time actually coaching. It can also mean an improved family life.

Maloney says shrinking the recruiting window earlier just means programs and athletes have to adjust.

“That doesn’t keep us from getting the players we want,” says Maloney “We just have to make decisions quicker.”

“Guys are going to be out (recruiting) whenever the calendar says. Basketball did a nice job when they shortened their window to bring some sanity.”

Like many mid-major schools, Ball State tends to recruit within its region.

“We get the best kids in the Midwest we can get,” says Maloney. “Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin — those area are our bread and butter.”

But the Cardinals will look elsewhere if they have a specific need.

The current roster also has players from California and New York.

Maloney knows that building a team can be fun and also a challenge.

Players are picked based on the needs of the program and the fit for athlete. They see what a school has to offer in terms of academics and athletics. Some want to stay close to home and others want to get far away and they all need to fit into a structure that allows just 11.7 fully-funded scholarships at the D-I level.

Then there’s players who are drafted out of high school or those that are sophomore and junior eligibles.

“It’s a partial scholarship sport,” says Maloney. “There can be an uncertainty of who is coming back and who isn’t. You have no control over that.

“It’s a delicate balance.”

Ball State, which went 32-26 overall and 17-10 in the Mid-American Conference in 2018, is scheduled to open the 2019 schedule Feb. 15 against Stanford in Tempe, Ariz.

The Cardinals’ home opener is slated for March 12 against Purdue Fort Wayne. The first MAC games are March 22-24 at Western Michigan.

Maloney’s career record is 794-535-1, including 435-291-1 (most wins in BSU history) and 341-244 in his 10 seasons leading the University of Michigan.

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Rich Maloney, head baseball coach at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., is coming to the close of his term as American Baseball Coaches Association president and will lead off the ABCA Convention Jan. 3-6 in Dallas. (Ball State University Photo)

 

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a touching thing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s an inspiration.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His answer: “Yes.”

The reply: “You’ve paid for it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bethel Hall of Famer Masterson keeping busy since baseball retirement

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What was your favorite class or classes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you doing these days?

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

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

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

Q: What about Fortress Foundation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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