Gongaware serving baseball community with Prospect Select, Indiana Chargers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Gongaware coached college baseball.

Now he’s serving both college coaches and players who want to get to the collegiate level.

As event coordinator for Prospect Select Baseball — a Florida-based national tournament company — Gongaware is helping to get players exposure in front of the right college coaches and scouts.

Gongaware, who is based in Fort Wayne, Ind., seeks answers to baseball questions.

“What are the greatest needs of those college coaches that are trying to identity who those players are?,” says Gongaware. “How can we utilize our events as a meeting place for that to happen?

“We want to create what we would consider the greatest value-added events for everyone that shows up — players, parents, umpires, college coaches, pro scouts. How are they getting their particular needs met?

“What are we doing as a tournament company to facilitate the greatest opportunities for them to play at the next level, which is ultimately what everybody in travel baseball in trying to do?”

Gongaware notes that not all exposure is equal exposure and the aim is to have close to a 1:1 ratio of players to college coaches and scouts at events.

Emphasizing quality over quantity, Prospect Select has 13 high school tournaments on its 2019 calendar. There are events in Florida, the Carolinas and Boston as well as the Midwest — Kansas City, St. Louis, Quincy, Ill., and Fort Wayne.

“We’re not going to oversaturate and try to do 15 different things,” says Gongaware. “We look to find a great host venue city with great baseball complexes.

“People will mark their calendars every year and say, ‘I can’t wait to come back.’”

The idea is to provide great competition and the opportunity to get better while being seen by a coach who could realistically add a player to his program.

The 2019 Fort Wayne Classic for 16U and 18U teams is July 25-29 at World Baseball Academy, a facility on the west side of town with three turf fields for high schoolers.

WBA was the site of the Great Lakes Fall Invitational in 2018.

“I’ve worked with (Director of Operations/Tournaments) Andy (McManama) and (CEO) Caleb (Kimmel) here at World Baseball (Academy) and they’re fantastic,” says Gongaware. “It’s a great partnership. They clearly care for the student-athletes at a much higher level than what they do on the baseball field.

“We believe in the same thing as a company (at Prospect Select).”

One of the fun parts of Gongaware’s job is experiencing baseball culture in other parts of the country.

“We’re all connected through this awesome game,” says Gongaware. “But it’s different everywhere. It’s just like language and dialects.”

Gongaware says a point of pride is that all full-time PS staff have played or coached at the college or professional level and have strong relationships in that area.

“We can facilitate networking,” says Gongaware. “We try to build very strong relationships with college and travel coaches so that when we make a recommendation for a college coach or travel team to attend one of our events, we have strong confidence that it’s going to meet their needs.”

After labrum tears ended his playing career at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before it began, Batavia (Ill.) High School graduate Gongaware became interested in coaching.

“At the time I was getting bigger and stronger, I got hurt,” says Gongaware. “Let’s be honest, it was from inefficient body actions and mechanics. How I could help other players not go through that?”

Recruited while Rich Benjamin (now head coach at Indiana Wesleyan University) was pitching coach, Gongaware was at ONU as Elliot Johnson moved on as head coach and Todd Reid took over.

After graduating from Olivet in 2010, he was in youth ministry for three years and then became volunteer assistant pitching coach to Andy Gossel at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis.

The two met when Gongaware was officiating an Upward Basketball game featuring one of Gossel’s sons.

“I’m forever indebted to him with getting me involved in the game of baseball as a coach,” says Gongaware of Gossel — aka “Goose.”

Gongaware went to Quincy (Ill.) University to become a graduate assistant in baseball at the same time his wife, Steph, was a graduate assistant in women’s basketball. The former Stephanie Wagner, a graduate of Jimtown High School in Elkhart, Ind., finished her playing career at Quincy.

Josh Rabe was the head baseball coach at Quincy and the Hawks were on the cusp of becoming an NCAA Division II power.

“Coach Rabe took a huge risk on me with not having college playing experience,” says Gongaware, who earned a masters degree in Educational Leadership at QU in 2016. “There was so much knowledge he was willing to share with me.”

Matt Stembridge was then pitching coach at Quincy. He later became a Midwest tournament coordinator for Prospect Select and helped connect Gongaware as well as teaching him much about strength and conditioning.

“He’s one of my closest friends in the game of baseball,” says Gongaware of Stembridge. “He’s challenged me — not just on the baseball side — why do I believe what I believe? He’s really got me to ask a lot of questions.”

Stembridge is also general manager of the Hannibal (Mo.) Hoots and co-owner of the Normal (Ill.) CornBelters in the summer collegiate Prospect League.

Gongaware’s next stop after Quincy was as pitching coach at Hannibal-LaGrange University. Then he became pitching coach and recruitment/placement coordinator at Inspiration Academy, a high school and post-graduate institution in Bradenton, Fla.

When he got back to the Midwest, Gongaware was hired by Joel Mishler as an assistant operations director for the Indiana Chargers travel organization.

“He’s been such an awesome influence for me,” says Gongaware. “He’s been around this game so long. It’s so easy for guys like that to get caught up in this is the way it’s always been.”

Gongaware says Mishler continues to learn and get better and promotes the same thing with his staff, including taking them to the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention.

The Chargers have training facilities in Goshen and Fort Wayne. Younger players are based closer to home while the best high school players come together for the travel tournament season. Gongaware helps coordinate the staff in in Fort Wayne while coaching younger players on a volunteer basis.

In his two roles, he enjoys getting to be on both sides of the travel ball equation.

Gongaware knows that travel baseball and college recruiting is big business so he wants to make the experience worthwhile for all parties in his role with Prospect Select.

“If kids are going to pay money to play in one of our tournaments, we need to be honest and fair with them about where they are and what level of baseball they’re playing,” says Gongaware. “We need to be very open and honest with the college coaches about who they should come see and how they watch.”

With this in mind, Prospect Select tournaments are structured so equal-level teams are playing each other in each pool.

“Typically college coaches are attending the first two or three days because there are more teams playing,” says Gongaware. “It’s pool play. Everyone’s still in the tournament. Once it gets to bracket play and there’s only five or six teams, they’re not getting as much bang for their buck.

“If my ceiling is I’m a right-handed pitcher and I throw 82 (mph), I don’t need to go against the No. 1 prospect in the country who every time he faces me is going to hit it out of the park.

“If I’m a D-III hitter I don’t need to go against Daniel Espino, the No. 1 prospect last year, throwing 100 mph. It’s not going to do me any good. It doesn’t help his coach recruit him.”

Tony and Steph Gongaware will be married six years in June. The couple have two children — Ella (3) and Abram (who turns 1 in July).

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Tony Gongaware, who resides in Fort Wayne, Ind., is an event coordinator for Prospect Select Baseball — a Florida-based national tournament company. He also works operations and coaching for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Tony Gongaware will help stage Prospect Select Baseball’s Fort Wayne Classic at World Baseball Academy July 25-29, 2019.

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