By STEVE KRAH
Andy McClain is part of a chain.
McClain has connected with people along his baseball journey and intends to do his part to keep the links coming.
Entering his 26th season as a high school coach in Indiana in 2017, including his 11th as head coach, McClain counts it a privilege to have played for and coached under Bill Tutterow at Martinsville High School and formed so many relationships and friendships through the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.
“I’ve got to meet a lot of great coaches through the years,” says McClain, the longtime emcee at the annual IHSBCA State Clinic who his also going into his fifth season as Norwell head coach. “It’s my responsibility to pass along what I know to the other young guys.”
McClain will be sharing things he absorbed from IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tutterow, who passed away in 2015.
“He was a big mentor,” says McClain. “He really taught me the game.”
Tutterow showed McClain what it meant to work hard and be competitive and enthusiastic and those qualities have been hallmarks at each of his stops.
“I love baseball and I love the kids who play it,” says McClain. “It’s fun to work with them and grind things out. Whether you’re a player, husband or father, I show them that hard work is going to pay off for you.
“I’m still enthusiastic about it and my kids feed off that a little bit.”
Norwell has won 15 sectionals, six regionals, three semistates and three state championships as a program. In his first four seasons, McClain helped contribute two sectionals, one regional, one semistate and one state title. But for him, it is about the young men on the diamond and not the man making out the lineup.
“Don’t think you know it all and don’t let your ego get in the way,” says McClain. “Put the game and the kids before yourself.”
LaVille High School presented an opportunity to be a head coach and McClain served the Lancers in that capacity for three years while also soaking up plenty of diamond knowledge from another Hall of Famer as an instructor at the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp.
McClain returned to central Indiana at Indianapolis Arlington, where he worked for three seasons — the last as head coach.
Brebeuf was McClain’s baseball home for seven years, the last two as head coach. In his final season of 2012, the Braves lost 8-1 to Western in the IHSAA Class 3A championship game.
At that point, McClain was planning to join John Zangrilli’s staff at Zionsville. But when Zangrilli left the Eagles (he is now pitching coach at Carmel) and Kelby Weybright stepped down as head coach at Norwell, the Knights hired McClain to run the show.
“Coach Weybright started this program on the right track,” says McClain. “It was an easy mesh. He’s a mentor.”
Weybright now serves as a vice principal at Norwell. Junior Garrett Weybright, Kelby’s son, is expected to be the starting second baseman for the Knights this spring.
With Kelby Weybright as head baseball coach, Norwell won two 3A state titles (beating New Palestine 3-1 in eight innings in 2003 and topping Evansville Mater Dei 5-0 in 2007) and was a 3A state runner-up (losing 13-13 to Jasper in 2006).
In McClain’s first season as Knights head coach, San Diego Padres minor league-to-be Josh VanMeter (14-1) bested L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner Nick Gobert (9-1) in a pitchers’ dual and Norwell edged Jasper 2-1 for the 3A title.
“(VanMeter) is an incredible leader,” says McClain of a player who won more games on the mound as a Norwell senior than future Major League Baseball pitcher Jarrod Parker before going pro as a middle infielder. “He’s one of those kids who is talented but also works hard.
“It was an honor and pure coincidence that the Padres drafted him and he got to spend that time in Fort Wayne (with the low Class-A Midwest League’s TinCaps in 2014 and 2015).”
Thanks to a trade following the 2016 season, VanMeter is now in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
Jasper head coach Terry Gobert, another IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is among McClain’s many mentors.
“He’s just a class act,” says McClain of the man who has earned five state crowns with the Wildcats. “When I was at Martinsville, Coach Gobert owned us.”
McClain prefers a small coaching staff. He has assistants at Norwell — Dave Goodmiller (pitching) and Jamie Feldheiser (junior varsity).
In looking at the new pitch count rule for 2017, Goodmiller and McClain went back over 2016 games and found out they would never have violated it even one time.
“It’s a lot of common sense and good things for pitchers,” says McClain of the limits put in place for the health and safety of young athletes. “I don’t see it as a hinderance or a problem.”
He has noticed a few schools have canceled JV games, fearing they might rack up too many total pitches.
“I would hope schools would let it run its course for a year,” says McClain.
Feldheiser was a senior pitcher/third baseman on the 2006 Knights team.
“You can have too many voices,” says McClain. “That hurts kids more than it helps them.”
When McClain went to northeastern Indiana, he also quickly formed a baseball bond with Mark DeLaGarza, founder of the Summit City Sluggers travel baseball organization. McClain knows that many players from the ’13 state championship team at Norwell enjoyed plenty of travel baseball success with the Sluggers the previous summer.
I joined them and I have an understanding of their organization,” says McClain. “If (a travel baseball group is) trying to help kids and promote the game, let’s figure out how we can do it together.”
McClain, who had coached summer collegiate players in Indianapolis, has been doing the same for the Sluggers the past few summers in a league that has also included the Fort Wayne Panthers, Northeast Kekiongas and Twin City Bankers.
Norwell plays in the Northeast Eight Conference. The schedule calls for the Knights to meet each other NE8 member — Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Huntington North, Leo and New Haven — one time each.
Andy McClain (right) and Josh VanMeter won a state championship at Norwell High School in 2013. (Norwell Photo)