Indiana Bulls have grown baseball in state nearly three decades

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991.

Taking players exclusively from Indiana was how co-founder Dave Taylor wanted it and that’s the way it has remained all these years.

The Bulls have sent countless players on to college baseball and dozens have been drafted by Major League Baseball.

Two players on the first Bulls team — Todd Dunwoody (Harrison High School in West Lafayette) and Scott Rolen (Jasper) — made it to the big leagues.

Rolen is on the latest National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

Recent Bulls alums to don MLB uniforms include Nevin Ashley (North Knox), Tucker Barnhart (Brownsburg), Tommy Hunter (Indianapolis Cathedral), Micah Johnson (Park Tudor), Adam Lind (Anderson Highland), Josh Lindblom (Harrison of West Lafayette), Lance Lynn (Brownsburg), Alex Meyer (Greensburg), Cameron Perkins (Southport), Clayton Richard (McCutcheon) and Drew Storen (Brownsburg).

“We have pride in that border with Indiana players,” says Bulls executive director Dan Held. “It’s impressive to see all the players that come out of here.”

In 2018, the Bulls have 26 teams from 8U through 18U.

With Held running the show, all will be present at noon Sunday, Jan. 28 at Westfield High School for the annual parent/player organizational meeting.

Barnhart will be the guest speaker and players will receive uniforms and equipment in anticipation of the upcoming season.

The campaign opens first for 8U to 14U. Those squads are expected to play 50 to 60 games apiece during their four-month season.

At this age, the Bulls try not to travel more than three weekends in a row.

“We are not chasing trophies,” says Held.

High school-aged teams — U15 to U18 — get started after the prep season concludes and have eight weekends worth of tournaments and will likely play 30 to 40 games each.

High school baseball is a priority at this age the the Bulls strive to develop relationships with prep coaches (and have several on the coaching staff).

“High school coaches are a fantastic resource,” says Held. “They are with those players for years.

“We are just an additional set of ears and eyes for those coaches.”

The 8U to 14U teams play many games in and around Indiana, but have been known to go to Cooperstown, N.Y., and Omaha, Neb.

Held puts all the schedules together for high school-level teams with an eye on exposure to college scouts.

Some of those showcases include the Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn., and World Wood Bat Championships in Cartersville, Ga., as well as the Youth Amateur Baseball Championships and Midwest Prospect League run by Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield with its 26 synthetic surface diamonds.

At the end of the season, coaches fill out an evaluation form for each player — noting strengths and weaknesses — and presents it to the player or their parents and Held also gets a copy.

Annually, the Bulls offer three memorial scholarships — in honor of Daniel Mercer, Craig Moore and Lance Moore.

Once the season ends, there are optional fall workouts. There is no training activity in November and December.

Held left his post as a St. Louis Cardinals coach after the 2006 season to direct the Bulls, which are based in the Indianapolis area but draws players from all corners of the state.

With all his connections in the baseball world, Held is the face of the organization.

When he first came aboard with the Bulls, Held conducted player clinics. But with players spread out across Indiana it was difficult to reach all of them.

Held then decided to focus on educating the coaches to relay the message to the players.

He wants a non-threatening atmosphere and screamers and yellers are not welcome.

All coaches are hired by Held. He is looking for those with strong baseball backgrounds. That is more important than them having a standout player for a son.

“We need to have a coach who runs a quality program,” says Held. “We’d love to have all non-dad coaches. But with time restraints, we can’t always do that. (Coaching) does entail a lot of work.”

Head coaches get a stipend to off-set expenses which they share with their assistants. Player fees are waived for sons playing on a team coached by their father.

Last November, a mandatory coaches retreat was taken to Camp Emma Lou near Bloomington. It is the site of Rolen’s E5 Foundation camps for children and families dealing with illness, loss or other special needs.

“It was a big undertaking, but it was just worth it,” says Held. “It really paid off.

“Part of my job is make sure we’re doing things properly and evaluating the coaches. I give my coaches a big leash. Micro-managing them is a mistake.”

There is manual to help coaches conduct a productive practices.

“I don’t want them having home run derbies and just hitting ground balls,” says Held. “Practice is the most important thing. Players need to get something out of it.

“I monitor my coaches. I don’t want them to go rogue.”

Practices tend to be held once a week in the winter and twice a week in the spring for 8U to 14U teams. Games are mostly played on weekends.

Besides team practices in locales around the Indianapolis area, there are some organizational practices on the calendar. That’s one of the various ways the director stays connected with all the teams. Taking a cue from professional baseball, he has each coaching staff report to him after each weekend. If there was an incident or a significant injury, Held will know about it.

If a parent has a concern, Held says they need to go through the proper channels of communication. He prefers that the matter be addressed first with that player’s coach. Then comes a board member assigned to the team and then comes the director.

“I try to keep a close watch on the pulse of our teams,” says Held. “If there are issues, we try to be visible.

“It’s hard to control 300 sets of parents. You may give a message, but they hear what they want to hear. Our parents have been fantastic with going through the proper chain of command.”

The Bulls — an Indiana not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization has a board of directors filled with business professionals and a set of by-laws. There are currently 23 board members.

In a presentation at the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis, Taylor told those assembled about how to put together and sustain a successful travel organization like the Bulls.

Taylor says the mission must be clear.

Some are established as high school feeder programs. Others are there to go after national championships. Yet others are there to develop talent.

The Bulls were formed to develop and gain exposure for ballplayers in the state.

“Indiana was Alaska in terms of developing college baseball players,” says Taylor.

It’s key to have business people of the board — bankers, lawyers, insurance agents etc. There expertise will help in securing facilities, making deals, establishing policies, setting budgets and managing social media. Other important things to consider are revenue, player fees, sponsors and fundraising.

Taylor says board members are expected to raise money and/or cut a check of their own. They should be “invested” in the organization.

The Bulls have had a sustaining corporate partnership with cap company Lids.

While keeping tabs on all the teams, Held will also coach 16U Black and join Rolen in coaching 10U Grey and their sons — Boston Held and Finn Rolen.

“We’re excited about that,” says Held. “We get our kids to play together and enjoy the game of baseball.”

Held and Rolen were both selected in the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies — third baseman Rolen in the second round and catcher Held in the 42nd round. They were minor league teammates.

Rolen played 17 seasons in the big leagues. Held was a pro player for nine years and a coach for five.

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Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991. (Indiana Bulls Image)

 

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Lawrence North grad Watson shares lessons learned in first three seasons in Royals system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Watson has not yet reached his 21st birthday and has already pitched more than 200 professional baseball innings.

Selected in the first round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals straight out of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, the right-hander has gain wisdom and perspective in his three minor league seasons.

After playing for the rookie-level Burlington (N.C.) Royals in 2015 and Low Class-A Lexington (Ky.) Legends in 2016, Watson split the 2017 season between rookie-level Arizona League Royals, Burlington and Lexington.

“I’ve learned about dealing with failure,” says Watson, a 6-foot-2 right-hander who went 6-1 with a 0.68 earned run average and 81 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings with his 95-mph heat as an LN senior and is 4-26 with a 7.33 ERA, 129 strikeouts and 95 walks in 210 1/3 innings as a pro. “In high school, I was a big fish in a small pond. I had it pretty easy.

“I’ve had to deal with getting knocked around a little bit. You can’t throw everything by everybody (in pro ball). I’m learning to be competitor.”

At Lawrence North, Watson used a two-seam fastball and slider. The Royals replaced those with a four-seam fastball and curve ball and last season, let him re-learn the slider.

“It’s been a adjustment, but nothing to shy away from,” says Watson, who turns 21 Jan. 25 — on few days before leaving for Surprise, Ariz., to prepare for spring training. “It’s more about learning how to pitch and not just throwing as hard as you can. It’s learning how to throw to the corners and staying consistent.”

For Watson, it comes down to focus, preparation and mental strength.

“It’s not letting your surroundings or your last outing get to you,” says Watson. “You focus on the next pitch that’s being called.”

The right-hander has started in all but four of his 57 pro appearances.

The day after a start includes the bulk of his running and is an optional throwing day. The next day, he throws a bullpen and concentrates on things he did not like about his previous outing ie. fastball command. The next two days are about keeping his arm loose and his legs strong. Everyday includes shoulder care.

Watson landed on the disabled list early in the 2017 season and went to Arizona to rehabilitate his shoulder. He went to Instructional League for more shoulder last fall.

This off-season, Watson has been working with Jamey Gordon at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield,

Besides throwing pitches, Watson is going through rehabilitation and pre-habilitation (preventative) shoulder and scapula movements and exercises with bands, medicine balls and weighted balls.

“We make sure I’m not rubbing or stressing the wrong things,” says Watson. “It’s the things that keep you out of the training room and the doctor’s office.”

Most of his development in the Royals system has come under pitching coaches Carlos Martinez and Mitch Stetter (the former big leaguer pitcher is a Southridge High School graduate and Indiana State University teammate of Pro X co-founder and owner Joe Thatcher). They have been getting Watson to concentrate on the direction and follow-through of his delivery.

“They make sure there’s conviction going to the plate and I’m not falling off or flying open,” says Watson. “I could play 20 years in the big league and I still think I could get better at it.”

Watson played travel baseball for the Skiles Test Cobras in Lawrence Township and later for the Todd Bacon-coached Indiana Indians, Eric Dill-coached Indiana Mustangs and Kevin Chrisman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.

Making sure he got games and practices and had clean laundry and food to fuel him were parents Perry and Melinda Watson.

“I can never properly thank them for what they did,” says Nolan. “I was always looking up to (older brother Tyler) and he made me what I am today.”

Tyler Watson graduated from Lawrence North in 2009 and played baseball at Anderson University.

Richard Winzenread was Watson’s head coach at Lawrence North.

“He told us about not giving up and competing,” says Watson. “We always had trouble with Cathedral. My senior year, we finally got past Cathedral (in the finals of the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A Roncalli Sectional).

“That was a glorious moment. That was a weight off our shoulders. It was an accumulation of not giving up and having heart. It was a great feeling for all of us.”

Watson had been recruited by Vanderbilt University, which won the College World Series in 2014. But he decided to sign with Royals instead.

“Everybody’s dream is to play professional baseball,” says Watson. “They good amount of money. I didn’t want to pass that up.”

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Nolan Watson, a Lawrence North High School graduate and former first-round draft selection of the Kansas City Royals, has pitched in the Royals system since 2015. (Lexington Legends Photo)

 

Hagerstown graduate Bartlett looks back on Mizzou diamond days, first year of pro baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Effective pitching can be compared to real estate.

It’s all about location, location, location.

Cole Bartlett learned to locate his two-seam fastball more during his final college baseball season and carried it over into his first professional campaign.

Bartlett, a 6-foot-2 right-hander and 2013 Hagerstown (Ind.) High School graduate, finished up his playing days at the University of Missouri and was selected in the 25th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I was able to locate that fastball more,” says Bartlett, who also throws a circle change-up and curve ball. “It’s something I really worked on at Mizzou with (pitching) coach (Patrick) Hallmark.”

After four varsity seasons at Hagerstown, including winning 10 games as a senior, Bartlett appeared in two contests as a Missouri freshman in 2014. That summer, he pitched for the Sedalia (Mo.) Bombers of the MINK League. He tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm and had Tommy John reconstructive surgery August 2014.

Rehabilitation time kept him off the mound for about a year. He was a medical redshirt at Missouri in the spring of 2015 and resumed pitching in practices and intrasquad games that fall.

Bartlett went 3-5 with three saves and a 3.90 earned run average, 26 strikeouts and 11 walks in 55 1/3 innings over 31 appearances (28 in relief) in 2016. That summer, he pitched for the Plymouth Pilgrims in the Northeast Collegiate Baseball League.

In 2017, he went 6-3 with a 3.19 ERA, 53 strikeouts and 22 walks 79 innings over 19 appearances (14 in relief).

After the draft, he made one-inning stint with Arizona League Diamondbacks then was sent to the Missoula Osprey of the short-season Pioneer League. He went 1-0 with four saves and a 2.53 ERA, 30 strikeouts and four walks in 32 innings over 21 appearances (all in relief).

“It went pretty well,” says Bartlett of his first pro season. “I put put up some good numbers, got good experience and gained a lot of knowledge.”

One thing he learned is that the tempo of the game is faster in the minors than it is in college — even in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference.

“In college, we played more small ball and bunted runners over,” says Bartlett. “Pro ball is really not like that. Everyone is swinging the majority of the time.”

It also becomes more serious when players begin getting paid to play.

“Everything is on you,” says Bartlett. “if you don’t want to get better that’s on you. You really have to take initiative of your own career.”

Since Bartlett had already logged a substantial amount of innings in the spring, the Diamondbacks restricted his use in the summer. The rule for him and other rookies was one day of rest for each inning thrown.

“I was pretty max effort every time I went out there, especially out of the pen,” says Bartlett. “I would sit 88 to 92 mph. My fastball gets a lot of movement. It’s basically a sinker.”

Hallmark was his pitching coach at Missouri for one season. Former Tigers head coach Tim Jamieson handled the pitchers in Bartlett’s second and third seasons and Matt Hobbs was pitching coach his freshman year.

“(Hobbs) told me, ‘Never turn your back to the hitter. Show them you’re confident,” says Bartlett. “(Jamieson) worked with me on my change-up.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd Michael was Hagerstown head coach in Bartlett’s freshman campaign before Brad Catey took over the program.

Bartlett remembers that Michael believed in discipline.

“We had to run strong to first base and do everything right,” says Bartlett. “That’s what stuck with me.”

A catcher and shortstop when he was not pitching, Bartlett remembers that Catey liked to play small ball.

Being a pitcher only, he never got a chance to hit at Missouri.

Did he miss it?

“I did,” says Bartlett. “But after seeing guys throw 100, I was OK with not hitting.”

Bartlett played from T-ball through age 12 at Hagerstown Little League then with the Centerville (Ind.) Yard Dogs travel team. He attracted the attention of the Dayton (Ohio) Classics and was asked to try out. He ended up playing for them in the summer the rest of his high school days.

The youngest of Charlie and Rhonda Bartlett’s three children, Cole earned a degree in agribusiness management at Missouri.

“I’ll fall into that once baseball is done,” says the 23-year-old.

Brother Lex, who is four years older than Cole and a former Hagerstown baseball player, earned an agribusiness management degree at Purdue University and now works for Crop Production Services in Williamsburg, Ind., near Hagerstown. The Bartlett boys grew up on a 600-acre farm.

Their sister, Connor Allen, attended Indiana University-Bloomingtoin and IU-East in Richmond is now an elementary teacher in the Shenandoah (Ind.) school system.

Cole is spending the off-season in Longmont, Colo., the hometown of fiancee Sophia Mastronardi (a 2017 Mizzou graduate).

He has been working out and recently began throwing at Extra Innings Longmont as he prepares to report for spring training in Glendale, Ariz.

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Cole Bartlett, a graduate of Hagerstown High School and the University of Missouri, is now a pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Missoula Osprey Photo)

Bedford North Lawrence coach Callahan wants his Stars to know their roles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An athlete knowing and accepting their place can go a long way toward the success of a team.

Bedford North Lawrence High School head baseball coach Jeff Callahan firmly embraces this philosophy and passes it along to his Stars.

“We are working with athletes to understand their role,” says Callahan, who is in his 15th years as BNL athletic director and entering his fifth season in the baseball coaching role. “Everyone wants to start, play shortstop and bat third. We can’t have that to have the best team possible.”

Callahan talks with players about team expectations.

“We’re putting the team first and individual accolades second,” says Callahan, who coached the Stars to an IHSAA Class 4A sectional championship in 2017 — the first for the program since 1994.

As baseball coach, Callahan meets with his parents to talk about team rules and player roles.

As AD, he encourages the other coaches in the BNL athletic department to do the same.

“It’s never going to eliminate all issues or possible conflicts,” says Callahan. “As parents, we all want what’s best for our kids.”

He also wants those youngsters to know that things won’t always go the way they want and that it is helpful to know how to accept and adjust during times of adversity.

“There are a lot of life lessons can be taught to kids in high school athletics,” says Callahan.

As a shortstop and pitcher playing for BNL 1984-87, Callahan learned the importance of fundamentals from Stars head coach Mike Short.

“He was very detail-oriented,” says Callahan. “We worked a lot on the defensive side and on situations. It helps knowing the game of baseball inside and out as a player.

“Pitching and defense is where you’re going to win games and win championships.”

Coach Callahan spends time at every practice on bunt coverages and all kinds of other possibilities. It’s hoped that this repetition will trigger muscle memory during games.

The 2017 Stars said goodbye to 11 seniors, including eight starters.

Two varsity pitching innings return this spring.

“We have a lot of kids battling for positions,” says Callahan. “Early in the season, we may have several different lineups looking for the right combination of players.”

Callahan tends to keep 35 to 40 players in the program. With all the seniors leaving, he says there may be days he has 18 players with the varsity. There are likely to be around a dozen with the junior varsity 10 to 12 freshmen.

While he is still looking to hire a freshmen coach, Duane Higgs and Reggie Joslin are varsity assistants and Dennis Kissinger will coach the JV for BNL in 2018.

Moving on to college baseball from the Class of 2017 were the coach’s oldest child Brandt Callahan (Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.) plus Drew Hensley (Indiana University Southeast), Austin Long (Indiana University), Tanner McBride (Indiana University Kokomo), Brody Tanksley (Indiana University Southeast) and Michael Underwood (Marian University).

“If a kid wants to go play (college baseball), we give them an idea of what it takes and what it’s like to be recruited,” says Callahan. “We help them make sure they’ve got all their ducks in a row. We make them understand that school is more important that the baseball program.”

There’s also things to consider like cost, distance from home and overall fit with the school’s culture.

“A lot of factors go into it,” says Callahan.

Other recent BNL graduates to head for collegiate diamonds include Caleb Bowman (Taylor University), Dillon Hensley (Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill.), Kyler Sherrill (Blackburn College) and Tanner Tow (Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky).

BNL plays in the Hoosier Hills Conference (along with Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated, New Albany and Seymour). Because the HHC is spread out, all teams do not meet during the regular season. There is a conference tournament, slated for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, May 7, 9 and 11. All teams plays three games to determined places 1 through 8.

BNL’s fourth annual Orval Huffman Invitational is scheduled for May 19. Besides the host Stars, the four-team event named in honor of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and former BNL coach Orval Huffman will feature Northview, Silver Creek and Speedway.

A year ago, Huffman and members of the Stars’ 1977 State Finals team addressed the current BNL squad.

The rotating sectional is scheduled to move from Bedford in 2017 to Jeffersonville in 2018. Besides BNL and Jeffersonville, the field is to include Floyd Central, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour.

Callahan played baseball for two seasons at Vanderbilt University. Roy Mewbourne was the Commodores head coach. The VU coach who recruited Jeff Callahan — Gary Burns — is now leading Brandt Callahan as Rockhurst head coach.

Rockhurst is an NCAA Division II school and member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

During Jeff Callahan’s time at Vandy, the Southeastern Conference featured stars like Frank Thomas at Auburn University and Ben McDonald at Louisiana State University. Vanderbilt was not yet the powerhouse it has become in recent years with Tim Corbin as head coach.

Callahan graduated from the Nashville-based school in 1991 with a double major in human resources and secondary education.

After college, Callahan taught and was assistant baseball and football coach at Norcross High School in Gwinett County, Ga. His wife, Paige, grew up in Atlanta. The couple met at Vanderbilt.

Moving back to Bedford, Callahan became a U.S. History teacher and assistant in football, basketball and baseball. For a few seasons, he was the Stars head football coach.

Besides Brandt, Jeff and Paige have a freshman son Whitt and eight-grade daughter Merritt.

Bedford North Lawrence became a school in 1974, a consolidation of Bedford, Fayetteville, Heltonville, Needmore, Oolitic, Shawswick and Tunnelton.

Many Indiana basketball fans know BNL’s Damon Bailey is from Heltonville. He played baseball for the Stars as a freshman. That was Jeff Callahan’s senior season.

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Celebrating a 2017 IHSAA Class 4A Bedford North Lawrence Sectional baseball championship for the host school are the Callahan family (from left): Merritt, Jeff, Brandt, Paige and Whittt. Jeff, who is married to Paige, enters his fifth season as the BNL Stars head coach in 2018. Brandt is now in college. Whitt is freshman. Merritt is an eighth grader.

Attention to feeder system starting to pay off for Nunley, Deckman, Monroe Central baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

By investing in its feeder system, Monroe Central High School baseball is optimistic about its present and future.

“We’re building the numbers,” says Keith Nunley, who heads into his third season as Randolph County-based Golden Bears head coach in 2018. “We usually have around 20 and hoping to build to 25. The train’s coming a little bit.”

With Nunley (Winchester High School graduate) and best friend and former Ball State University teammate/roommate Matt Deckman (Monroe Central graduate) guiding the varsity squad, MC went 15-11 in 2016 and 14-11 in 2017.

Monroe Central, an IHSAA Class 2A school with an enrollment around 370, sent catcher-outfielder Logan Conklin on the NCAA Division II Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Golden Bears junior shortstop Seth Wilson has verbally committed to Ball State.

A year ago, the Indiana Bears travel organization was established to help train mostly Monroe Central boys (with a few from Winchester).

This spring and summer, the team plans to field five teams — 9U, 10U, 11U, 12U and 15U.

Nunley has two boys (A.J., 12, and Koby, 9) and Deckman three (Bryce, 15, Trey, 10, and Easton, 7). All five are ballplayers. In addition to the Monroe Central Athletic League and all-stars in the spring, they will be involved with the Indiana Bears in the summer. Bryce Deckman is an MC freshman.

“We’re trying to show kids how to play the game the right way,” says Nunley, who was a middle infielder at Ball State 1999-2002 and part of Mid-American Conference regular-season championships in 1999 and 2001 and MAC West titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. “It’s a transition from recreation league to all-stars to travel.”

The Indiana Bears generally stay within an hour of Parker City to find competition, usually venturing to Hamilton County to play at Grand Park in Westfield at the Noblesville Field of Dreams.

“We try to make it a community event during the summer time with our teams sometimes going to the same place,” says Nunley.

Players also travel to the Lapel area to receive instruction from Mike Shirley and Justin Wechsler. Shirley is a national cross-checker for the Chicago White Sox and former Ball State pitcher Wechsler is a White Sox area scout.

Not only do Nunley and Deckman coach baseball together, they also coach AAU basketball and both are employed by Adrenaline Fundraising.

Players coached by Nunley and Deckman at younger ages are beginning to arrive at the high school level with a foundation of skills and knowledge.

“By the time they get to us, we want to hit the ground running and not have an intro period,” says Nunley. “We want to have them come in ready to go.”

At the smallish school, freshmen are often asked to play a varsity role against a solid schedule.

Monroe Central belongs to the Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Randolph Southern, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del).

The sectional group includes Frankton, Lapel, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani. Since they have lights, Frankton and Lapel have been sectional hosts in recent years.

Daleville was 2A state champions in 2016 while Wapahani was 2A state runners-up in 2017.

At Winchester, Nunley played for Bill Bush.

“Coach Bush is great human being,” says Nunley. “He was a great leader and a role model to us players.”

Nunley was a player during head coach Rich Maloney’s first tenure at Ball State and the two have remained close. Maloney came back to Muncie beginning with the 2013 season.

“He took me under his wing,” says Nunley. “It was real special time in my life for sure.”

Current Ball State assistant and recruiting coordinator Scott French was in the same recruiting class with Nunley.

The closeness in the relationship and distance has allowed Monroe Central to play games at BSU when the Cardinals are on the road. The Bears are slated to play Adams Central there on April 21.

Besides Nunley and Deckman, MC’s coaching staff features Bracken Barga (junior varsity and junior high coach), Sean Richardson (pitching and youth program coach) and volunteer assistants Bob Gilmore (who is in his 80’s) and Ryan Taylor (who serves as youth baseball coordinator).

When Nunley, whose wife Kate is a special education teacher at Monroe Central, was hired two-plus years ago, an overhaul of Monroe Central’s on-campus field began. That includes the playing surface, mound and home plate area.

“We spent a lot of time and effort turning that thing around,” says Nunley. “The players and coaches do a good job with the up-keep.

“It drains very well. We’ve had road games rained out and we were able to practice at home.”

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The sons of Monroe Central High School baseball coaches Keith Nunley and Matt Deckman practice on the Golden Bears’ field (from left): Easton Deckman, A.J. Nunley, Bryce Deckman, Trey Deckman and Koby Nunley.

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A view of the Monroe Central High School baseball field from the press box.

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Monroe Central High School baseball bead coach Keith Nunley and wife Kate attend a Notre Dame football game with sons Koby (left) and A.J.

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Keith Nunley (back, left) and Matt Deckman pose with sons Koby Nunley (left) and Trey Deckman after a 2017 travel tournament for the Indiana Bears.

Indiana’s Edgerton among former players thrown a curve by baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bill Edgerton would not trade his time on a professional baseball field for the world.

It’s the business side that has left a bitter taste for the former left-handed pitcher who spent 68 days on a Major League Baseball roster.

“It was the best time of my life,” says Edgerton, who graduated from Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., in 1960 and played in the majors with the Kansas City Athletics in 1966 and 1967 and the Seattle Pilots in 1969. “I enjoyed every second of it. There was a statistic back then that something like 1 in 10,000 guys made it (to the big leagues). That was everybody’s goal to make it there and establish yourself.

“Along the way, they had the situation to their liking but not to anybody else’s.”

The ‘they” Edgerton refers to is the owners and baseball officials who make money decisions, including pensions.

“It’s always been a one-sided situation,” says Edgerton, 76. “I found that out.

“When I played, they sent you to a league nearest your home so they can give you a bus ticket to get home.

“The whole system was set up for them to make money. It was a business more than anything else. It’s the old adage: the little guy doesn’t matter much. They are working in volume and numbers.”

Doug Gladstone, author of the book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve,” has been advocating for Edgerton and 500 other men do not get pensions because they did not accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between the years 1947 and 1979 needed to be eligible for the MLB pension plan.

“A lot of us wouldn’t have gotten a dime without his persistence,” says Edgerton of Gladstone. “He’s a driving force for guys who don’t even realize they have someone in their corner.”

Gladstone calls it an “under-reported topic” and an “incredible injustice.”

“All these men have been getting since 2011 are non-qualified retirement payments of $625 per quarter, up to 16 quarters, or a maximum payment of $10,000,” says Gladstone. “Meanwhile, the maximum IRS pension limit is $210,000. Even the minimum pension a vested retiree can get is a reported $34,000.

“The union representing the players, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), doesn’t have to be the legal advocates for these men, the league doesn’t have to negotiate about this matter and the alumni association is too busy putting on golf outings.”

Gladstone notes that Forbes recently reported that the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $2.7 billion, yet the union representing the current players, the MLBPA, has been reluctant to share the wealth.

Edgerton, who laid out his case to South Bend Tribune columnist Al Lesar in 2012, fought to prove he had 68 days of service time and was finally given an annual sum that Gladstone says amounts to less than $1,000 after taxes.

“It was real frustrating,” says Edgerton of his prolonged fight. “They tried to work me under the mill. It’s been a long, hard battle. I’ve been lied to, twisted and turned.

“It’s shameful.”

Gladstone calls Edgerton’s payment a pittance, especially in industry reportedly worth $12-13 billion.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s chump change,” says Gladstone. “These are reparations. They’re definitely not pensions. A pension can be passed on to a loved one.”

Kim Edgerton, 20 years younger than husband Bill, will receive nothing after her husband passes away.

“Bill wants to provide for his wife,” says Gladstone. “Nobody can have too much money. I know guys who have no health insurance and have had three heart attacks.

“Not everybody is commanding the money today’s players are making. That’s what people don’t get. The explosion of wealth this game has seen did not trickle down the guys who played before 1980.”

Gladstone notes that Richie Hebner, who played through 1985, was a grave digger in the off-season throughout his 18-year MLB career.

“Guys like Yoenis Cespedes don’t have to dig a ditch,” says Gladstone. “If they make proper investments, they have no worries about money.

“But there are some living hand-to-mouth.”

While Edgerton is not in that situation, he is grateful for the advocate’s efforts.

“Gladstone knows what he’s doing,” says Edgerton. “He knows how they lie and cheat. There are till guys who deserve something and don’t get anything. There are guys who really need it.”

Edgerton retired after 34 years at the AM General plant in Mishawaka and headed south for warmer weather.

“I don’t regret that move at all,” says Edgerton, who lives on a golf course in Foley, Ala., a town not far from the Gulf of Mexico.

Edgerton fondly remembers his early baseball days at Jefferson Elementary in South Bend. Al Vincent was his coach.

“We all idolized this guy because of his knowledge, personality and teaching skills,” says Edgerton, whose older brothers Mel and Paul played at South Bend Adams and got the attention of professional scouts and younger brother Rick was an all-around athlete at Penn. “Those guys are rare and they stuck with you for your life. They don’t only teach you what you need to know about the game, but away from the game.”

Edgerton played on the Mishawaka High School varsity as a freshman and then went to Penn when that school opened its doors. Bill Brinkman was the Kingsmen’s head coach.

During the summer, Edgerton took the mound for Sherman Cleaners and then the Toasty Flyers, coached by future Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and professional coach and manager Jim Reinebold.

“I pitched against college players,” says Edgerton, who had a few college baseball opportunities but continued to play on the semi-pro circuit after high school graduation before signing with the expansion New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1963.

“I played in the Mets organization for 90 days,” says Edgerton, who was with the 1963 Quincy (Ill.) Jets. “They owed me bonus money.”

After his release, Edgerton came back to northern Indiana and was planning to give up on pro baseball.

“I was giving my equipment away,” says Edgerton, who then got an offer from the Kansas City Athletics, owned by Charles O. Finley. They needed a left-hander to finish the summer. He signed and went back to the Class-A Midwest League with the Burlington (Iowa) Bees.

Edgerton was in Class-A and Triple-A ball in 1964, Double-A in 1965 and went 17-6 for the 1966 Triple-A Mobile (Ala.) A’s when he was called up to Kansas City.

At 25, he made his debut Sept. 3 with a scoreless inning against the Boston Red Sox and got into six big league games in 1966 and seven in 1967.

“I did a lot of sitting and watching,” says Edgerton, who watched owners try to recoup their investment in their Bonus Babies (amateur baseball players who received a signing bonus in excess of $4,000 and went straight to the majors between the years 1947 and 1965). “I know I had better skills than them. I’m not bragging. That’s the way it was.”

The 6-foot-2 southpaw pitched in the minors with the California Angels and Philadelphia Phillies in 1968.

Before the 1969 season, Edgerton went from the Phillies to the expansion Seattle Pilots. He was with the Vancouver (B.C.) Mounties and then the big-league Pilots, appearing in four games. His final MLB appearance was April 25 against the Oakland Athletics.

He wound up with one MLB win, 11 strikeouts and a 4.79 earned run average. After his time in the big leagues, he also pitched in the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers systems.

“I’m glad that was the time period I played in,” says Edgerton. “There were some great ballplayers — ones I idolized for years and years. There was Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Willie Mays. They were exceptional for their time.”

Edgerton recalls one spring while with Kansas City when the Athletics went to play the New York Yankees, who then trained in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

As Edgerton and another Athletic approached the batting cage, they saw Mantle taking his cuts.

“Did you just get the chills?,” Edgerton asked his teammate. “The hairs were standing up on my arm. There’s an aura here I don’t understand. I’d like to face that guy one time to see what I got. The only regret is I didn’t get the shot I deserved.”

Nor the financial compensation.

BILLEDGERTONKCATHLETICS

Bill Edgerton, a 1960 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., pitched in parts of three seasons in the big leagues with the Kansas City Athletics and Seattle Pilots.

 

Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)

 

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Contact Steve Krah at stvkrh905@gmail.com