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Loggins believes in ’natural movements’ for young ballplayers

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Josh Loggins grew up in Tippecanoe County, Ind., his baseball position was well-established.

Young Josh was a shortstop.

When Loggins reached the eighth grade at Battle Ground Middle School he met John O’Maley, the head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette.

O’Maley told Loggins that he would be a catcher in his program.

Loggins resisted at first, but came to excel behind the plate with the Harrison Raiders. 

On March 11, 1995 — the eve of the baseball season — O’Maley passed away at 46 and six Harrison seniors — Loggins, Nate Linder, Brad Pitts, Brad Sherry, Dusty Sims and Jimmy Taylor — served as pall bearers. The players wore No. 42 patches on their uniforms all season as a tribute to O’Maley.

Jerry Galema became Harrison’s head coach and the team went on to go 34-2 and win the 1995 state championship, besting Fort Wayne Concordia 3-1 in the title game.

“He was passionate about doing the right thing,” says Loggins of Galema, who is now the school’s athletic director. “He was a very detailed, very organized coach and could not have been a better person.”

Future big leaguers Todd Dunwoody (Class of 1993), Erik Sabel (Class of 1993) and Eric Bruntlett (Class of 1996) were Loggins teammates at Harrison.

Loggins was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-stater and IHSBCA North All-Star as a senior catcher. It was as a backstop that he was selected in the seventh round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Instead of going pro out of high school, Loggins went to Purdue University then transferred to the University of Kentucky and played for Wildcats head coach Keith Madison.

The UK coach had quite an impact on Loggins.

“I couldn’t say this more — and I get a little choked up — he’s the best individual I was ever introduced to,” says Loggins of Madison. “He is a genuine individual. It’s how he carries himself.

“He taught us how to be men. Coach Madison took me in where I was struggling to find myself. He helped me immensely. He got me back to confidence and kept me on a path to professional baseball. He’s a very good man.”

At Kentucky, Loggins would start at catcher in midweek games and in Friday and Saturday contests during Southeastern Conference series and be in right field in Sunday.

The righty swinger hit .384 with 15 home runs, five triples, 20 doubles, 63 runs batted in and six stolen bases in 57 games in 1998.

Loggins comes from a baseball family. He father — Vernon Porter “Mick” Loggins — played in local leagues in Danville, Ill. He became an English professor and poet with the pen name V.P. Loggins.

Kenny Loggins, Josh’s uncle, also pitched in Danville. 

Grandfather Elmer “Buck” Loggins was a pro in Alabama as was his brother who was known as “Black Diamond” Loggins. He was a coal miner who doubled as a ballplayer.

It was as an outfielder that Josh Loggins was picked in the 11th round of the 1998 MLB Draft and was sent to Idaho Falls, where he hit .341 with eight homers, five triples, 20 doubles, 64 RBIs and and eight stolen bases in 71 games.

Loggins played for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards in 1999, hitting .297 with 14 homers, seven triples, 29 doubles, 85 RBIs and and 12 stolen bases in 136 games as the regular right fielder. 

Fort Wayne was managed by Dan Simonds, who served stints at Miami (Ohio) University and Xavier University and associate head coach at Indiana University (2014) before becoming Director of Baseball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Before being with the Wizards he had also been an extra in the movie “Rookie of the Year.”

“Dan was a great guy,” says Loggins. “That was my first experience of what it means to be a professional baseball.

“You no longer call them ‘Coach’; it’s their first name or nickname. You are an equal. You are a professional. (Simonds) was relatable. He was a players’ manager.”

Loggins played professional baseball until 2005. He reached Double-A with the Padres, New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies organizations. 

Parts of 2002 and 2003 were spent with the independent Washington (Pa.) Wind Things. He played for the independent Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers in 2004 and 2005. In both places his manager was Lafayette’s Jeff Isom

As business partners, Loggins, Isom and Dunwoody had a stake in the On Deck Training in Lafayette. Isom runs the facility now with Bobby Bell and Pat Murtaugh as instructors and has a travel ball organization.

Loggins’ average in affiliated Minor League Baseball was .288. He hit .315 in indy ball. 

“Those were the best times I had in professional baseball,” says Loggins of independent ball. “There was no pressure moving up or playing for next year’s contract. You were playing ball and having fun.”

Perhaps Loggins’ best pro season was 2003 in Washington when he hit .331 with 24 homers, five triples, 13 doubles, 72 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 74 games.

“I was a hitter — that’s what kept me around a long time,” says Loggins. “I was pretty consistent though I did not perform as well as a platoon guy. 

“I needed to be in there and keep the routine going and seeing pitches often.”

Loggins struck out over 100 times only once from 1998-2005. In fact, he whiffed 635 times while poking 90 homers, 26 triples and 144 doubles and driving in 468 runs in 2,987 plate appearances. He also swiped 81 bases.

He wound up playing every position except shortstop and pitcher. He also played briefly for Team USA in an international qualifier in Bradenton in 2005.

After his playing days, he spent some time as a Boston Red Sox scout. Registered Investment Advisor is the 43-year-old’s full-time job.

Since the early 1990’s, Loggins has been involved with the Indiana Bulls in one way or another. He played on one of the travel organization’s first teams. This year was his first vice president on the board of directors, lending advice to president Quinn Moore, treasurer Brent Mewhinney, secretary Todd Mewhinney and director of baseball operations Scott French

Loggins will be the Bulls 10U Black head coach for 2021 with sons Hayes (10) and Tagg (who turns 9 in November) on the team.

Without any prompting from their father or mother (McCutcheon High School graduate and former WLFI News 18 anchor Gina Quattrocchi Loggins), both boys became right-handed throwers who hit from the left side. It’s what felt right to them.

“You’ve got to be comfortable to hit,” says Loggins. “The motion has to be natural.

A few years ago, Loggins was in Puerto Rico and talked with former Joliet teammate Gabby Delgado (brother-in-law of Carlos Beltran).

Loggins wanted to know why Latino players were so smooth. Delgado told him that most don’t receive instruction until their teens and do what comes natural to them.

“That kind of stuck with me at the time,” says Loggins. “If you think too much or are coached too much it can take the athleticism away from you. It makes you a mechanical player.

“Sometimes the worse thing you can do is teach too much and not just let the kid play naturally and build on natural movements.”

Hayes (left), Tagg and Gina are the sons and wife of Josh Loggins, a graduate of Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., who went on to play college and professional baseball and now coaches his boys and others with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.
Tagg (left) and Hayes surround father Josh Loggins following a tournament win for the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization. Josh Loggins played for the Bulls in the early 1990’s and went on to Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind, followed by college and pro baseball.

Fourteen on 2021 ballot for Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fourteen men are finalists for the 2021 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Coaches include Doug Greenlee, Mark Grove, Dean Lehrman, Chris McIntyre, Gary Rogers, Lea Selvey, Steve Strayer and Tim Terry. Greenlee (Kankakee Valley) and Grove (Churubusco) are retired. Lehrman (Heritage), McIntyre (New Albany), Rogers (Leo), Selvey (Jay County), Strayer (Crown Point) and Terry (South Vermillion) are active.

Players are Wallace Johnson and A. J. Reed. Nominated as contributors are Jamey Carroll, Ray Miller, James Robinson and Dave Taylor.

DOUG GREENLEE 

Greenlee (South Putnam High School, Indiana State University and Ball State University graduate) won 503 games in a 28-year career with 25 years at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind. 

His KV teams won three sectionals, two regionals and seven conference championships. He was the 2013 IHSBCA North All-Star head coach and has served on numerous IHSBCA committees and served 16 years as athletic director at four different schools.

MARK GROVE 

Grove (Bluffton High School and Ball State University graduate) coached Churubusco (Ind.) High School to 513 wins with nine sectionals, four regionals and one semistate (1995).

His teams also won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (four tournament titles) and two Allen County Athletic Conference crowns.

Forty of Grove’s players played college baseball and one was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He coached 25 all-staters, six IHSBCA North All-Stars and was honored as a district coach of the year several times.

Grove has been on many IHSBCA committees and currently helps out at the State Clinic registration table. He has been a mentor to many coaches and is always a willing participant/organizer for clinics and youth baseball events.

DEAN LEHRMAN

Lehrman (Heritage High School and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne graduate) pitched four seasons at IPFW.

He has coached high school baseball for 42 years — nine at Woodlan and 33 at Heritage in Monroeville, Ind. His teams have won 602 games and 12 Allen County Athletic Conference championships. 

He is an eight-time ACAC Coach of the Year and has been an IHSBCA District Coach of the Year and twice been on the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars coaching staff.

Lehrman’s teams have won eight sectionals, three regionals, one semistate and made three Final Four appearances. His 2007 squad was state runners-up. He has also coached football for 39 years with six as head coach (40-26).

Dean, a high school mathematics teacher, and wife Janice Lehrman have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne — plus three grandchildren.

CHRIS MCINTYRE 

McIntrye (Jeffersonville High School and Indiana University Southeast graduate) played at Jeffersonville for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Poole. 

Mac’s coaching career began as an assistant to Clarksville (Ind.) High School to IHSBCA Hall of Famer Wayne Stock.

In 25 years as New Albany (Ind.) High School coach, McIntyre has a record of 533-218 with five Hoosier Hills Conference titles, 10 sectional championships and one regional tile with three Final Eight appearances.

He is a four-time District Coach of the Year and five-time conference coach of the year. 

McIntyre was IHSBCA President in 2014, has served on numerous committees and has been an IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series three times. He has coached 13 South All-Stars and sent more than 40 players to college baseball. Three of his players have been selected in the MLB Draft and two have played in the majors.

Chris, a high school mathematic teacher at New Albany, and wife Shannon McIntyre have two sons — Tyler and Kevin.

GARY ROGERS

Rogers (Merrillville High School and Huntington College graduate) spent 32 seasons as head coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High School and has been in charge at Leo for two seasons. 

His teams have won 513 games with Luers taking four sectionals, one regional and one semistate. The 2008 state won a state championship.

Rogers was a State Coach of the Year in 2008 and a two-time IHSBCA District Coach of the Year. He has been on numerous IHSBCA committees and is very active in the Fort Wayne baseball community. He has served as a volunteer assistant at Indiana Tech for many seasons and worked with the Wildcat League for 33 years and serves on the board of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is an NEIBA Hall of Famer.

LEA SELVEY

Selvey (Redkey High School, University of Evansville and Ball State University graduate) has spent his entire coaching career at Jay County High School in Portland, Ind. — five as an assistant and 31 as head coach — and has a career record of 502-333. 

His teams have won seven sectionals and three regionals plus five Olympic Conference and one Allen County Athletic Conference title. He was conference coach of the year three times.

Very active in the IHSBCA, Selvey has served as president, a regional representative and on several committees. He has been an assistant coach in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series two times. He has also been a regional coach of the year and coached 14 All-Stars and numerous players who went on to play in college with three drafted by MLB and two others in independent or overseas baseball.

Selvey has been active in community and junior high baseball and has been active nine years with the Summit City Sluggers travel organization. 

Lea, a high school science teacher, and wife Denise Selvey have three three children — Josh, Kyle and Kristen.

STEVE STRAYER

Strayer (Prairie Heights High School, Manchester College and Indiana University Northwest graduate) coached at Boone Grove High School in Valparaiso, Ind., and is going into his 19th season at Crown Point (Ind.) High School. His overall coaching record is 619-227 with 15 conference titles, 14 sectional crowns and nine regional championships.

His Crown Point teams have won 396 games and numerous sectional and regional titles to go along with eight Dunelond Athletic Conference crowns. He was named District Coach of the Year three times and served as IHSBCA President and was a 2005 IHSBCA North/South All-Series coach. He has coached 12 Indiana All-Stars and 63 players have gone on to play college baseball (23 in NCAA Division I).

Strayer teaches high school mathematics and resides in Crown Point with wife Jennifer and daughter Charlotte.

TIM TERRY

Terry (Clinton High School and Indiana State University graduate) played football, basketball and baseball at Clinton and began his coaching journey in 1980 with one season at Turkey Run High School in Marshall, Ind., and has spent the past 38 years as head coach at South Vermillion High School. His career mark is 604-357.

His teams have won nine Wabash River Conference titles, eight sectionals and one regional while finishing in the Final Eight three times and the Final Four once.

Terry has led the Wildcats to 20-plus wins 10 times and coached six IHSBCA All-Stars with numerous all-state players. He has been named an IHSBCA district coach of the year twice and served as IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series coach and participated on many IHSBCA committees. 

He has coached at the Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth and American Legion levels and was the head girls basketball coach at South Vermillion for 34 years with two conference titles, five sectionals and 295 wins.

Currently in his 42nd year in education, Terry was at Turkey Run for two years before coming to South Vermillion. Besides head baseball coach, he is currently the school’s athletic director.

Tim and wife Kim, a high school science teacher, have four sons — T.J. (22), Canton (20, Cooper (18) and Easton (14). Tim’s baseball memories are centered around his boys.

WALLACE JOHNSON

Johnson (Gary Roosevelt High School and Indiana State University graduate) played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bob Warn at ISU. Johnson was co-captain for the Sycamores’ first Missouri Valley Conference championship team and first NCAA tournament participant. He had a career .422 average and led the nation in regular-season hitting (.502). He was selected to the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Johnson was selected in the sixth round of the 1979 MLB Draft by the Montreal Expos. He was MVP of the Florida State League and later played on championship teams in Denver (1981) and Indianapolis (1986). 

He made his MLB debut in 1981 and went on to become the Expos’ all-time leader in pinch hits (86). In 428 big league games, he hit .255 with five homers and 59 RBIs. After retirement as a player, he was third base coach for the Chicago White Sox for five seasons.

A.J. REED

Reed (Terre Haute South Vigo High School who played at the University of Kentucky) played for Kyle Kraemer at South Vigo and was the Indiana Player of the Year and MVP of the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 2011. 

The IHSBCA record book lists Reed sixth in single-season homers (18 in 2011) and sixth in career homers (41 from 2008-11).

At UK, Reed’s awards were many, including Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Golden Spikes (nation’s top amateur player), Dick Howser Trophy, ABCA and Baseball America College Player of the Year, John Olerud Trophy, several first-team All-America teams, Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year. In 2012, he was on several Freshman All-America teams.

Reed was chosen in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros and was a minor league all-star in 2015, 2017 and 2018. He won the Joe Bauman Award twice for leading Minor League Baseball in homers. He was the California League MVP and Rookie of the Year with Lancaster in 2015.

He smacked 136 homers in 589 minor league games. He played in 62 MLB contests with the Astros and Chicago White Sox and finished with four homers and 12 RBIs.

He retired from baseball in March 2020 and resides in Riley, Ind., with wife Shelby and their two dogs. He plans to return to college in January 2021 to finish his bachelor’s degree.

JAMEY CARROLL

Carroll (Castle High School graduate who played at the University of Evansville) played at Castle in Newburgh, Ind., for Dave Sensenbrenner and Evansville for Jim Brownlee. He was an All-American in his senior year of 1996. He name appears 27 times in the Purple Aces baseball record book.

He was drafted in the 14th round of the 1996 MLB Draft by the Montreal Expos. In his 12-year big league career with the Expos/Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals, he produced a 16.6 WAR, 1,000 hits, 13 homers, a .272 average, 560 runs, 265 RBIs, 74 stolen bases, a .349 on-base percentage and .687 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

Carroll scored the last run in Expos history. He led National League second basemen in fielding percentage in 2006. In 2007, his sacrifice fly plated Matt Holliday to win the NL Wild Card Game.

He currently works in the front office for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jamey and Kim Carroll have 11-year-old twins — Cole and Mackenzie.

RAY MILLER

Miller (who died in 2017) took over the Portland (Ind.) Rockets in 1972 and won more than 900 games in more than 30 years as manager. 

In 1992, Miller became American Amateur Baseball Congress state secretary and moved the Indiana tournament to Portland. He managed the Rockets to state titles in 1985, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2006.

An ambassador for baseball, Miller sent more than 30 former players into the high school or college coaching ranks. 

In 2000, the Rockets named their home facility Ray Miller Field. In 2002, Miller was the first inductee into the Indiana Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.

Randy Miller, Ray’s son, is the current Portland Rockets manager.

JAMES ROBINSON

Robinson (Indianapolis Wood High School and Indiana University Kokomo graduate) played one year of high school baseball.

He began umpiring high school games in 1980 and worked for 35 years with 33 sectionals, 25 regionals, 14 semistates and six State Finals. He umpired six IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series and was voted IHSBCA Umpire of the Year five times.

In 1994, Robinson was elected to the National Federation Distinguished Official of the Year. He also coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball for 10 years.

He has been a football official at the high school and college level and worked six years in NCAA Division II and seven in the Mid-American Conference. He has been a replay official for the MAC and Big Ten Conference. He was a replay official for the 2014 National Championship game at the Rose Bowl between Florida State and Auburn.

James and late wife Nada has one daughter and one grandson — Chiquita and Kameron.

DAVE TAYLOR 

Taylor (Southmont High School and Wabash College graduate) was a Little Giants captain and was in college when he began his coaching career. He led teams at the Little League, Babe Ruth, AAU and American Legion levels.

During an AAU coaching stint in Florida, Taylor realized the level of travel baseball and how Indiana was underrepresented in this arena. He formed the Indiana Bulls travel organization with the vision of providing Indiana high school player the opportunity to pursue their college and MLB dreams.

In 1992, the Bulls sponsored two teams and Taylor coach future MLB players Scott Rolen and Todd Dunwoody. Taylor coached the Bulls for four more seasons, served as president for 10, an officer for 20 and has been a director since 1992.

His vision was realized. More than 170 Bulls players have been drafted by MLB (12 in the first round) and over 300 players have received NCAA Division I scholarships. The Bulls have won 22 national titles, a professional staff works 12 months a year and currently field 25 teams from ages 8 to 17. Several of these teams are coached by former professionals who were Bulls players.

Taylor resides in Brownsburg, Ind., and is a leading insurance defense trial attorney. He has served 20 years as a certified Major League Baseball Players Association agent and represented more than 100 pro players and continues to represent former players in various legal matters.

Deadline for returning the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot, which appears in the October newsletter, is Oct. 31.

The IHSBCA State Clinic is scheduled for Jan. 15-17 at Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing. The Hall of Fame and awards banquet will be held at a later time because of COVID-19 restrictions at the hotel.

Pandemic creates unique experience for Blue Jays broadcaster Wagner

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Wagner experienced a baseball season like no other in his broadcast career in 2020.

Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School (1999) near Goshen, Ind., and Indiana State University (2003) and the radio voice of the Toronto Blue Jays, called games during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Blue Jays were on 64 broadcasts during the shortened season — two exhibition games, 60 regular-season contests and two playoff games — and Wagner worked all of them from a studio in downtown Toronto.

“We were really fortunate,” says Wagner. “Major League Baseball was taking tremendous care of us.”

With the help of five camera angles and information graphics provided by MLB, Wagner and his broadcast partners were able to present a game complete with the crack of the bat and pop of the glove.

“It’s the greatest recognition when people say we had no idea you weren’t in Buffalo or Philadelphia,” says Wagner. “That was my goal going into this — to make it seamless on the consumer end.

“To our credit, we were able to pull that off pretty easily from the start.”

Wagner’s employer — SportsNet 590 — made a blanket corporate policy that for the safety of all, they would only be allowed to cover home games if they were at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

The Canadian government did not allow the team to play there and they moved all home dates to Buffalo, N.Y. The 2018 season was Wagner’s first with the Blue Jays after 11 with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.

During the off-season, Ben and wife Megan live in Dunedin, Fla. — where the Blue Jays stage spring training — and were hunkered down there when the MLB season finally got started in late July.

Declared as essential, Ben was allowed to enter Canada to work following a 14-day quarantine (the Wagners had been in a modified quarantine since mid-March in Florida). 

But that essential status only went with him and Megan had to stay at home in the U.S.

“It was a long-distance relationship,” says Ben. “It was a big sacrifice for her. We used technology as much as we could.”

When things opened up in Dunedin, Ben and Megan drove their golf cart for pick-up meals and groceries.

After Ben’s departure, it was mostly deliveries for Megan and there was the loss of human contact and socialization.

“She became kind of a hermit,” says Ben. “Everything was getting delivered to the door step.

“The heavier lift was done by her. Megan did a great job.”

Wagner’s gameday routine was different. For one thing, he did not get to see the sights.

“I love travel,” says Wagner. “I like to experience new things when we go to a city.

“It gives me an excuse not to suck too much hotel air. It’s part of the enjoyment of this job.”

Earlier in the year, the Toronto metropolitan area was at a standstill even though millions reside there.

“It’s city living and so full of various cultures and life,” says Wagner. That city has an incredible vibe about it.

“Toronto was essentially closed down.”

In 2020, instead of exploring in the morning and going to the ballpark, he went to the studio in Toronto each day at 2 or 3 p.m.

Wagner got to ride with TV’s Buck Martinez and Joe Siddall.

“It was a true treat,” says Wagner. “I learned a ton about them and a ton about the game just listening to them talk.”

There were no one-on-one pregame interviews with coaches, players and managers. The Blue Jays set up Zoom interviews for the media.

“There was no opportunity to foster relationships and you forced to share nuggets with everybody else,” says Wagner. “There were growing pains, but we made the best of it.”

There was a shortened season. Wagner says it could have been longer had players and management not burned up so much time while not coming to an agreement.

“Baseball did itself a disservice,” says Wagner. “It had a chance to get itself started and have an exclusive window (to sports fans).”

Wagner notes that many were starting to feel pandemic fatigue by June and baseball could have filled the void for an entertainment-starved audience.

“The game missed an opportunity for about eight weeks,” says Wagner. “It was an opportunity to organically grow its game where people had nothing to do.

“Instead, baseball was not going head to head with basketball, hockey and then football. It was fighting for people’s attention.”

Since the Blue Jays season ended, Ben and Megan have been reunited in Florida and there’s not many daily baseball duties for him.

“It’s likely to ramp up with free agency,” says Wagner. “Right now it’s really low key.”

Ben Wagner (left) interviews Toronto Blue Jays player Justin Smoak in the dugout before a game, something Wagner did not get to do in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (SportsNet 590 Photo)
During a normal baseball season, Ben Wagner would broadcast games from the home radio booth at Rogers Centre in Toronto. During the COVID-19 pandemic season of 2020, he did all broadcasts from a downtown studio. The Blue Jays played home games in Buffalo, N.Y. (SportsNet 590 Photo)
Ben Wagner holds one of the World Series trophies the Toronto Blue Jays won before he became a radio play-by-play voice for the team. (SportsNet 590 Photo)
Ben Wagner has been the radio voice of the Toronto Blue Jays since 2018. He is a graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School near Goshen, Ind., and Indiana State University. He worked all 64 broadcasts in 2020 from a Toronto studio because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (SportsNet 590 Photo)

Former big leaguer Meyer giving back to game with Indiana Bulls

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A dozen years after Alex Meyer donned the jersey of the Indiana Bulls travel baseball uniform as a player, the former big league pitcher is helping the organization as an assistant coach.

“I hope that I bring an extra set of eyes and somebody (Bulls players) can talk to,” says Meyer, 30. “I’m not too removed from playing. I want to help them through the recruiting process. I want to give them somebody they can trust. I don’t want them to think I’m giving them the run-around on anything.”

The Washington Nationals picked right-hander Meyer in the first round (No. 23 overall) of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He made his MLB debut in 2015 with the Minnesota Twins and pitched for the Twins in 2016 before being traded to the Los Angeles Angels late in that season. He also pitched for the Angels in 2017.

Pitching coaches that worked with Meyer included Neil Allen and Rick Anderson with the Twins and Charles Nagy and Rick Honeycutt with the Angels.

“They were all great,” says Meyer. “The majority of the time when I was (in the majors) my coach was Charlie Nagy. He was awesome. He related to me really well.

“I was a nervous kid when I was up there. He put things into perspective and helped me quite a bit.”

While he had little interactions with Twins manager Paul Molitor, Meyer spent more time around Angels skipper Mike Scioscia.

“He’s another guy I loved,” says Meyer of Scioscia. “He’s old school. What he brought to the team was awesome. He was not afraid to jump somebody. He demanded things be done the right way. The way he went about it, I definitely respected.”

Meyer pitched in 22 big league games (19 starts) and went 5-8 with a 4.63 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings.

After retiring from pro baseball in July 2019, Meyer became a sales representative for BSN Sports and does much of his work out of his Greensburg, Ind., home.

Alex and Kyra Meyer have been married close to five years and have two sons — Roman (2) and Max (8 months).

Meyer’s BSN manager is Quinn Moore, who coached him during his 17U and 18U travel ball seasons with the Indiana Bulls — before and after committing to the University of Kentucky.

Moore asked Meyer to help with the Bulls this fall and plans call for him to coach within the organization next summer.

Meyer is a 2008 graduate of Greensburg Community High School, where he played baseball for Pirates head coach Scott Moore. He played basketball for two seasons each for Keith Hipskind and Stacy Meyer and earned all-Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference honors three times as a forward-wing type of player.

“(Moore) made it fun,” says Meyer. “He kept everything loose. It was a very, very enjoyable place to play.

“(Hipskind and Meyer) had a huge impact on me. They had different styles, but very good things, Coach Hipskind was kind of an old school and tough. I like the way he went about his business. He wanted to get every ounce out of his guys that he could. Stacy had a little bit more of a modern approach but was still hard on us. He demanded excellence. He could really break down a team and help you prepare.”

As a Greensburg senior on the diamond, Meyer went 8-0 with a 0.95 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 51 innings. He was named Indiana Mr. Baseball and the Indiana Player of the Year by Gatorade and Louisville Slugger.

He was selected in the 20th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox, but chose to wait on his professional and played three seasons at Kentucky (2009-11).

“I was young,” says Meyer. “I needed to go to school. I needed to learn how to be on my own a little bit and to grow as a baseball player.”

He grew in the game while also adding three inches to his stature in three seasons. He was about 6-foot-6 when he left high school and 6-9 at the end of his college days.

“It was about an inch every year,” says Meyer. “It kept me busy trying to stay accustomed to my body to try to learn how it moved.

“Being tall, you want to use that to your advantage. You want to have that good plane on your fastball.”

He pitched from a three-quarter arm slot at Kentucky and was a lower three-quarter at the end of his pro career.

With Gary Henderson as his head coach and Brad Bohannon his pitching coach, Meyer appeared in 39 games for UK (36 as a starter) and went 13-12 with a 4.73 ERA and 253 strikeouts in 211 2/3 innings.

Meyer says standing on the mound for the Wildcats and facing batters in the Southeastern Conference helped him develop mental toughness.

“I had to learn how to deal with a little big of failure and stay positive,” says Meyer. “That was a huge part of it for me.”

Ride Along With Alex Meyer (Angels Weekly Video)
Alex Meyer, a Greensburg (Ind.) High School graduated pitched in Major League Baseball with the Minnesota Twins followed by the Los Angeles Angels. (Los Angeles Angels Photo)

Keeran to manage Lafayette Aviators at new Loeb Stadium in ’21

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Corn is not involved. But there’s a kind of a reverse “Field of Dreams” thing going on in Lafayette, Ind.

“If You Build It, He Will Come” — in this case — refers to Michael Keeran.

A new Loeb Stadium is being built for the Lafayette Aviators baseball team. After discussions with owner Bill Davidson, Iowa native Keeran has been named as field manager for 2021.

Keeran, a 2012 graduate of Clear Lake (Iowa) High School and the holder of two degrees from Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa (a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Masters in Organizational Leadership with a Sport Management emphasis), welcomes the chance to bring his wife closer to family while also moving up in the baseball world.

“My wife is from Centralia, Ill.,” says Keeran. “I’ve coached near by hometown the past couple summers. (With the Aviators,) I get to coach in a very good league and I get two birds with one stone.”

Michael and Kaitlin Keeran are expecting their first child in December. Centralia is 220 miles from Lafayette and Kaitlin will be able to spend time there and also visit her husband.

“I always wanted to go to a bigger league. It’ll be a brand new stadium and a very good franchise. I thought it would be a good fit.”

The Prospect League is a 14-team college wooden bat summer circuit with teams in Indiana (Lafayette Aviators and Terre Haute Rex), Illinois (Alton River Dragons, Danville Dans, DuPage Pistol Shrimp, Normal CornBelters, Quincy Gems and Springfield Sliders), Ohio (Champion City Kings and Chillicothe Paints), Missouri (Cape Catfish and O’Fallon Hoots), Pennsylvania (Johnstown Mill Rats) and West Virginia (West Virginia Miners).

While 2021 Aviators assistant coaches have been consulted, the official word of their hiring is yet to come.

Keeran managed Pioneer Collegiate Baseball League champions in 2018 and 2019 — the Albert Lea (Minn.) Lakers followed by the Bancroft (Iowa) Bandits.

After one season as an assistant at Valley City (N.D.) State University (NAIA), Keeran became head coach at Bismarck (N.D.) State College (National Junior College Athletic Association Division II) for the 2020 season. The Mystics had played two games and were in Arizona to play 10 or 11 more when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the season to be halted.

“We were on a bus for 60 or 70 hours,” says Keeran. “It was awful.

“It’s tough to tell a bunch of young men that their season is over and it has nothing to do with wins or losses.”

While they could have taken an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Keeran encouraged his second-year players from 2020 to take their associate degrees and go to a four-year school.

“It’s not ethically right to hold on to those sophomores,” says Keeran. “I didn’t see the point. You’ve got your degree, now move on.

“We have a very new group (in 2020-21) and we’re very talented.”

With players taking a hybrid class schedule (some in-person and some online), Bismarck State played  few games this fall against four-year schools.

“We treated it like a test for what it’s going to be like in the spring with temperature checks and protocols,” says Keeran.

As a outfielder and pitcher, Keeran played four seasons at Waldorf while also beginning his coaching career. 

Since high school baseball in Iowa is a summer sport, Keeran was able to play college ball and be on the Clear Lake coaching staff for four seasons (2013-16) and helped the Lions win three state titles (2013 in 3A, 2015 in 2A and 2016 in 2A).

“It was pretty cool to be coach at a young age and be mentored,” says Keeran. “Baseball should be played in the summer when it’s warm. That’s why I like coaching in the summer.

“It feels so authentic.”

Keeran says a typical high school gameday would involve batting practice and field preparation around 1 p.m. and the players would come back for a 5:30 p.m. junior varsity game, followed by the varsity.

“It gives kids a chance to work morning jobs in the summer and they don’t have to worry about the stress of class,” says Keeran. “It gives athletes a chance to do other sports. One of my best friends was a four-sport athlete (football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer).”

While the pandemic wiped out high school baseball last spring in Indiana, there was season in Iowa. Four 2020 state champions were crowned Aug. 1 in Des Moines. 

In 2021, the Iowa High School Athletic Association has set the first practice date for May 3 with first of 40 allowed contest dates May 24 and state tournament concluding July 31. Showcase leagues ran by Prep Baseball Report and Perfect Game are typically conducted in the spring.

The 2020 baseball season was the first for head coach Michael Keeran at Bismarck (N.D.) State College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II school. In the summer of 2021, he is to manage the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Bismarck State College Photo)
Michael Keeran, a graduate of Clear Lake High School and Waldorf University in Iowa and the head coach at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, has been named field manager for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League in 2021. (Lafayette Aviators Photo)

DePauw graduate Quinn takes over at Clinton Central

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andrew Quinn is bringing his baseball knowledge and enthusiasm in Michigantown, Ind., as the new head baseball coach at Clinton Central Junior-Senior High School.

Quinn, who turns 26 in December, was a right-handed pitcher at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for four years (2014-17) and an assistant coach at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., for two seasons (2019 and 2020). 

He is also a lead instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind., where he gives pitching and hitting lessons and will coach at 14U Indiana Mustangs travel team next summer.

The IHSAA Limited Contact Period for baseball ended Oct. 17. Quinn worked with a few players each Friday, showing them the fundamentals of playing catch and giving them a chance to field ground balls.

Many players were not available since they were involved in football or others were getting ready for basketball season. The dead period lasts until Dec. 7.

Jeff Pittard, the father of Quinn’s former DePauw teammate, Reid Pittard, has committed as a part-time assistant. Other coaching candidates are being considered.

Quinn says he gets a sense that the Bulldogs will be a senior-heavy team in 2021. Among that group of left-handed pitcher J.T. Holton, an Indiana University Kokomo commit.

The new coach recently reached out to youth leagues in Michigantown and Kirkland to build a relationship with future Clinton Central players.

A full-time substitute teacher at the school, Quinn is looking into getting his transition to teaching license. He earned his DePauw bachelor’s degree in Communications. He also holds a personal trainer certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

A native of Chesterfield, Mo., Quinn played at St. Louis (Mo.) University High, where he was an all-state pitcher as a senior in 2013.

Quinn was brought to DePauw by then-DePauw head coach Jake Martin (head coach at his alma mater, Wabash, since the 2017 season).

“Coach Martin drove all the way from Greencastle to St. Louis to take me and my parents to dinner and drove back in the same day,” says Quinn. “He obviously cared a lot about me and his program.

“He made it very clear about how he wanted to do things.”

As a DePauw Tiger, Quinn took the mound 48 times (24 as a starter). He was honorable mental all-North Coast Athletic Conference as a junior and second team all-NCAC as a senior while also serving as team captain. 

During his four years (the last three playing for head coach Blake Allen), DePauw made the NCAA Division III tournament twice and posted the most victories in a four-year record (98) in the history of the program which dates back more than a century.

Allen is a St. Louis native, which helped Quinn relate to the coach.

“He’s super, super passionate,” says Quinn of Allen. “He knows his stuff.”

Allen spent two stints covering five years at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he learned from highly-respected Commodores head coach Tim Corbin.

“(Allen) got the best out of everybody on the team,” says Quinn. “He was really good at understanding the mental side and getting us to lock into that.”

Allen had DePauw hitters in an attacking mindset and Mike Hammel and Jack Thompson both set the school record for home runs in a single-season at 13 in 2017. The ’17 Tigers hit 46 bombs as a team.

As a college freshman, Quinn took a Baseball History class. He is familiar with the old Polo Grounds in New York, where the dimensions were short down the foul lines and deep to center. He looks at the Clinton Central field and is reminded of that image.

“Our center fielder has to be very quick,” says Quinn. “He’ll have a cover a lot of ground.”

He’ll be asking his pitchers to throw a lot of strikes, keep the pitch count down and work to all parts of the strike zone.

Quinn also plans to take a page out of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson’s book.

“Gibson said that with every pitch, act like you meant it to go there,” says Quinn. “Don’t get frustrated. Get the ball back and get ready for that next pitch.”

Clinton Central is part of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Carroll of Flora, Clinton Prairie, Delphi, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Sheridan, Taylor and Tri-Central).

HHC teams play each other twice with many home-and-home weekdays series.

The Bulldogs are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Frontier, Rossville, Sheridan, South Newton and Tri-County. Clinton Central won its lone sectional title in 2005.

Quinn is engaged to DePauw graduate Emily Matthews, who went through the excellerated nursing program at Marian University in Indianapolis. The couple’s wedding is slated for September 2021.

Andrew Quinn, a DePauw University graduate, has been hired as head baseball coach at Clinton Central Junior-Senior High School in Michigantown, Ind. After playing four seasons at DePauw, he was an assistant coach for two years at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and is a lead instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind., and is a 14U travel coach for the Indiana Mustangs. (Wabash College Photo)

Gaura stresses competitive environment for Evansville Purple Aces pitchers

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Gaura wants his to focus on what his University of Evansville baseball pitchers do best and let the rest take care of itself.

“It’s not about the hitter or the umpire,” says Gaura, heads into his third season in 2020-21. “It’s competing against ourselves.

“We’ve got to be competitive with two to three pitches and try not to over-think it.”

The Aces are beginning their fourth week of team practice after four weeks focused on individuals that missed much of their spring season (Evansville played just 16 games when play was halted in March) and summer to COVID-19. 

“We’re getting them into a competitive environment as much as possible,” says Gaura. “Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday we’re treating like a weekend series.”

That means starters are going four or five innings and relievers two our three. The goal is to have each arm get 18 to 20 innings by the end of fall ball.

After team practice, the plan is to go back to a week or two of individual training before Thanksgiving break.

As a COVID-19 measure, students will turn to online classes and testing and not come back to practice until the beginning of 2021. Baseball players will re-assemble in the middle of January — about a month before the start of the season.

“It’s going to be a big challenge this year,” says Gaura. “We’ll rely on guys to get in work on their own.”

Gaura (pronounced Gore-uh) is also UE’s recruiting coordinator. Because of the virus, there have not been many opportunities to see players perform in-person or have face-to-face meetings.

“It’s definitely a strange time,” says Gaura. “We work the phones to build relationships.”

That’s when coaches can get a sense of a potential recruit’s character.

Evansville’s campus is currently open to visitors who must go through a sign-in process. Academic tours are available.

Gaura is on an Aces coaching staff headed by Wes Carroll.

“Wes is an awesome guy to work for,” says Gaura, 28. “He brings energy every single day.

“He gives his assistants a lot of autonomy. He focuses on the culture of the program and allows us to coach the skill aspects of baseball. It’s a great work environment.”

From 2016-18, Gaura was at Mississippi State University, where he served as graduate assistant video coordinator, coordinator of player development and volunteer assistant/camp coordinator and headed up on-campus recruiting was responsible for the organization of all on-campus recruiting, the scholarship and recruiting database and video needs for both player development and advanced scouting. 

During Gaura’s stay in Starkville, Gary Henderson was an MSU assistant then head coach. Henderson began his college coaching career in the late 1980’s.

Gaura gleaned much from the veteran coach about the intricacies of running a pitching staff and program on a day-to-day basis.

“He took me under his wing and taught me the dynamics of working with the coaches and players,” says Gaura. “With his experience, there’s so much that can be learned from him.”

As a 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher, Gaura spent two seasons at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs and two at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn. 

Playing for head coach Marc Rardin, Gaura was 17-1 and helped IWCC to an National Junior College Athletic Association Division I national championship in 2012.

“It was so much more than baseball for Coach Rardin,” says Gaura. “He was teaching us life lessons. 

“I hope I can have half the impact on our guys as he had on me and my teammates.”

Gaura reflects on the JUCO experience.

“It’s not for everybody,” says Gaura. “Guys understand that it’s just a stepping stone piece. 

“You’re working to win while you’re there. But you’re also working because you want to find your next home.”

At Austin Peay, he went 4-2 as a starter then a reliever in 2013 and 2014. His head coach as a APSU player was Gary McClure. He then became a volunteer coach for Travis Janssen.

The program was coming off two regional finals appearances when Austin Peay went to the Governors.

“I wanted to carry on winning ways (experienced at Iowa Western),” says Gaura. “After being around the guys, I knew that was the place for me.”

Gaura cites Janssen for his organization skills.

“He did a really good job of laying out what are jobs were as assistant coaches,” says Gaura. “There was no gray area at all.”

Laura prides himself of being organized with his Evansville pitchers.

“Having my guys know what to expect every day they show up to the field breeds confidence,” says Gaura. “They know exactly what’s expected of them. 

“They’re not showing up to the ballpark wondering. That way they can be mentally prepared when they get to the yard.”

Gaura is a 2010 graduate of Bay Port High School in Suamico, Wis. — just north of Green Bay. Playing for head coach Mike Simoens, he helped the Pirates to a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 state champions state title in 2009 and was a Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association all-star in 2010.

Given the frosty temperatures in northeast Wisconsin, Gaura learned how to get better on the diamond from April to August and what it means to train indoors. His first travel ball came in the summer before his senior year at Bay Port. Before that, he played American Legion Baseball.

“It was a very pure baseball experience,” says Gaura, who has five players from Wisconsin and two from Canada on the Evansville roster. “What I know we’re getting there is blue collar kids from good families. 

“Their best days are ahead of them. They find ways to eliminate the excuse of not being able to go outside for long toss. It’s about being creative. If you are really committed to getting better, there’s a million ways you can get your work in.”

While he does not have any camps scheduled and can see more and more virtual meetings in the future, Gaura was able to attend the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics event Oct, 17 at Bosse Field in Evansville. Former Purples Aces head coach Jim Brownlee came out to share with the audience.

Gaura is engaged to Rachel Parrish and a wedding is planned for Dec. 5 in Orange Beach, Ala. The couple met when Gaura was coaching at Mississippi State.

A conversation with A.J. Gaura (Aces Insider Video)
A.J. Gaura enters his third season as a University of Evansville (Ind.) baseball assistant in 2020-21. He is the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Purple Aces. (University of Evansville Photo)

West’s aim to make baseball better for Muncie Central Bearcats

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Getting more and better baseball experiences for the players in his program is the aim of Muncie (Ind.) Central High School head coach Norm West.

The 63-year-old has been in charge of the Bearcats since the 2018 season after three seasons as an assistant and three as head coach at Muncie Southside (which was consolidated into Central). 

“It’s a challenge at Central,” says West. “Most of my kids don’t have the financial means to do the travel stuff.

“It’s pretty tough for us to compete. We play one heck of a schedule.”

Muncie Central, an IHSAA Class 4A school with around 1,300 students, is a member of the North Central Conference. The Bearcats are in the East Division with Anderson, Arsenal Tech of Indianapolis, Marion and Richmond. The West Division features Harrison of West Lafayette, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon. Divisions foes play each other twice then comes a seeded NCC tournament.

There has not been a junior high baseball program feeding Muncie Central for several years and that’s kept numbers down.

West, who started into high school coaching as a Southside assistant to P.J. Fauqher in 2008, says he hopes to correct the low participation numbers while building up the Bearcats in other ways.

“I want to leave the program better than when I got it,” says West.

There have not been many high schoolers in Limited Contact sessions because of fall-sports participation.

“Kids have got to be doing something,” says West. “I love to keep them in every sport they’re interested in doing.”

West has welcomes seventh and eighth graders to high school workouts.

“I’m just glad we’re getting to play again,” says West.

A self-employed masonry contractor, West has been added brick to the back stop and dugouts at Gene Bottorff Field — the Bearcats’ home diamond named for the former MC head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

“I want to make it a drawing card,” says West of Bottorff Field. “I want my kids to have somewhere nice to play.”

The Bearcats have been thrilled when they’ve had the chance to play at Ball State University. Few players have enjoyed the opportunity to take to the diamonds of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

By sprucing up the Muncie Central facility, it will allow for travel teams to play their in the summer. 

A just-concluded fall league featured 84 players — including some middle schoolers — from 22 different Indiana schools with some coming from as far as Terre Haute, Columbus and Fort Wayne.

Playing mostly daylight to dark on Sundays, seven teams competed at Muncie Central. 

“Kids are starving to play,” says West, noting how all players lost the spring season and much — if not all — the summer to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is a league designed to introduce kids to the high school game.”

It’s a also a revenue stream for the Bearcats program.

A 1974 graduate of Yorktown (Ind.) High School in Delaware County, West was a 5-foot-6, 155-pound left-handed pitcher for Tigers coach Joe Pena. 

West got many hitters out using a a pitch with screwball action, meaning it ran into left-handed batters and away from right-handers.

Though injury limited his college career one season season, he pitched 31 innings and made three starts for the University of Louisville. He went the distance in a 3-2 loss to Indiana and notched another complete game in a 4-1 win against Xavier. He also earned a start in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament against Southern Illinois.

West landed at U of L when former Yorktown catcher Randy Delph — three years older than West — went to play for the Cardinals and recommended the left-hander to head coach Jim Zerilla.

“Don’t tell me you can’t make it,” says West. “I did.”

And not by throwing hard or racking up large strikeout totals — a lesson for his current players.

“The No. 1 thing is to throw the ball over the plate,” says West. “I don’t care how hard how hard you throw it if you can’t control it.

“Try to miss the barrel of the bat and get weak ground balls and and pop-ups. They got by pitch count now. The best inning in baseball is five pitches with two groundouts and a pop-up.

“I try to get my guys to think about pitching instead of just throwing.”

West’s assistant coaches are Ken Zvokel (the Muncie American Legion Post 19 Chiefs manager) plus Dave Garrett and Ball State University student Garris Rehfus.

While there are no college players among recent Muncie Central graduates, West sees potential.

“There are a couple of younger kids who have a chance if they work their hind end’s off,” says West.

After the injury that ended his college mound days, West came back home to work and raise a family. Norm and Jan West — who have been married for 45 years have three boys who all played baseball at Yorktown — Kyle (Class of 1996), Cory (Class of 2000) and Clay (Class of 2007). There are also three grandsons and three granddaughters. All live close-by for grandparents to get quality time.

Norm West (in dark jersey behind head coach Jim Zerilla) pitched for the University of Louisville in 1975 after graduating from Yorktown (Ind.) High School in 1974. He has been the head baseball coach at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School since the 2018 season. (University of Louisville Photo)

Norm West, a 1974 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate, has been head baseball coach at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School since the 2018 season.

IU Kokomo’s Cheek emphasizes competition, classroom, community

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Cheek spent the summer collegiate baseball season of 2015 playing for the Kokomo Jackrabbits.

Coming off his first season as a pitcher at Indiana State University, Cheek played for manager Matt Howard.

The two maintained a relationship and Cheek came back to town as an assistant to head coach Howard at Indiana University Kokomo. The 2021 season will be his third with the Cougars.

“I love it,” says Cheek of working with the energetic Howard. “He will push you day in and day out to be a better leader on or off the field.

“What I enjoy most about him is he gives freedom (to his assistants) as if we were in-charge. I can make the pitching program my own. There is trust my abilities.”

Cheek, 26, is not only IUK’s pitching coach but he leads the program’s academic supervision and community service and helps with camps.

At pitching coach, he looks for aggressiveness and competitiveness. 

“What we strive to do is attack hitters,” says Cheek. “We recruit a lot of guys who are athletes that go out and compete. They piece it together inning by inning and put up zeros.”

Cheek wants his hurlers to trust their defense.

“We have plenty of gold glovers on the field so pound the zone,” says Cheek. “Execution is big for us.”

Knowing that not all pitchers are the same, Cheek looks to get each one to identify what makes them successful.

“Every guy is going to have different pitches and different sequences that they throw,” says Cheek, who knows some will around 90 mph with their fastball while others will have to pitch backwards, starting with a breaking ball and spotting their fastball.

“It’s about letting them know their success and know what they have to bring to the table,” says Cheek. “When they take pride int he role they have that’s where you start to see success.”

About half way through fall practice, IUK pitchers (a group that includes Ryan’s brother, Kacey Cheek) are currently in COVID-19 quarantine.

“It’s been a tough fall,” says Cheek. “It make guys see the picture of how they approach each day with an appreciation and a full passion for the game.”

That can be said of the whole squad, which includes returning college players who had their spring season cut short and incoming freshmen who had their senior high school seasons canceled.

Cheek and the other IUK coaches encourage them to respect the game but also have passion.

“Show up with a chip on their shoulder,” says Cheek. “Keep a goal in mind each day and don’t let a day pass.”

Because of the pandemic, the NAIA has granted an extra year of eligibility to those who want to use it.

Among those back to lead the Cougars are right-handed pitcher Renton Poole (at Bloomington High School South graduate who was selected in the 28th round of the 2018 Major League First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers but opted to stay in college) and infielder Austin Weiler.

While being aware of contact tracing, IUK baseball coaches work to separate players on the field and in the weight room. With pitchers away, there are a number of machine scrimmages. 

“We’ll have developmental work and one-on-one work when pitchers come back,” says Cheek.

As an academic supervisor, Cheek makes sure players are keeping up their grades up. He stays in-touch with professors and sets study table hours.

“They’re coming to IUK to get an IU degree and play baseball,” says Cheek. “The goal is to get these guys to where they want to go in life.

“My goal is to make sure they’re reaching their goals in the classroom.”

IUK students are currently taking a hybrid of in-person and online classes. After Thanksgiving to the end of the semester that will be all online.

While COVID-19 regulations and protocols has limited what players can do at the moment, there was plenty of community service with local groups last fall. Cheek says that each team member did up to 25 hours in the fall while meeting Kokomo know they care.

Cougars associate head coach Drew Brantley heads up camps and is helped by Cheek and Howard.

Cheek took his current job after serving as varsity boys basketball and varsity baseball coach at his alma mater Oblong (Ill.) High School. In 2018 and 2019, he coached Britton’s Bullpen 16U travel team.

As a player, Cheek was in spring training with the independent professional Evansville (Ind.) Otters in 2017.

Cheek pitched two seasons at Indiana State University (2015 and 2016) and two at Vincennes (Ind.) University (2013 and 2014).

As a right-handed collegiate pitcher, Cheek went 10-5 in 32 mound appearances (16 starts) at VU and 2-0 in 11 games (all in relief) at ISU.

Cheek was the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12 MVP in 2014 and helped Vincennes make the NJCAA D-II World Series (placing seventh).

He earned Management and Marketing degree from Indiana State in 2016.

Mitch Hannahs was the head coach and Jordan Tiegs the pitching coach at ISU.

Cheek went to youth camps run by Hannahs when the latter was coaching at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

“He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played under,” says Cheek of Hannahs. “He understands the game and knows how to compete.

“He helped me grow as a player and a person.”

Tiegs, who is now a coach in the Rangers organization, had an impact on Cheek.

“He was really smart and knew how to develop guys,” says Cheek of Tiegs. “He really sparked my interest about what a routine meant and entailed — throwing everyday, arm health, your body moving correctly and competing at a high level.”

Cheek appreciates his time with Vincennes head coach Chris Barney.

“He knew the game,” says Cheek of Barney. “He was a little Old School, but I loved it.”

The term “JUCO bandit” is used in baseball circles these days. Cheek tells what it means to him.

“They are guys who are hard-nosed and a little blue collar,” says Cheek. “It was a really good fit for myself to go junior college route. I learned a lot about myself — who I am as a person and player.”

Without the time restrictions of the NCAA and NAIA, junior college players have the chance to spend plenty of time working on their craft.

“We had a fall and spring season and a lot of competition,” says Cheek. “You’d get out of class and then be at the field for six hours at a time.

“We learned what ‘no off days’ meant,” says Cheek. “You didn’t get many.”

Cheek grew up in Oblong, which is Crawford County about 20 miles from the Indiana line and Sullivan County, Indiana. 

The 2012 OHS graduate played golf for coach Jason Hartke, basketball for coach Brent Harper and baseball for coach Dave Miller.

Richard and Kelly Cheek have three children — Ryan, Kacey (20) and Lincoln Trail College freshman Katie (18). 

Ryan Cheek, a graduate of Oblong (Ill.) High School, Vincennes (Ind.) University and Indiana State University, is heading into his third season as a baseball assistant coach at Indiana University Kokomo in 2020-21. (IU Kokomo Photo)

Grubbs guides Goshen College pitchers during unprecedented time

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In a year that has been anything but conventional, Goshen (Ind.) College baseball pitching coach Justin Grubbs has been teaching his hurlers to embrace their routines.

The ninth-year GC assistant has certain things for pitchers to do six days a week while they each are encouraged to find what works best for them.

These are college athletes. It’s no cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all system.

“A lot of these kids when they get here never really focused on pitching,” says Grubbs. “If they were at a school where they played multiple positions they might play shortstop, come in and pitch and the next day they’re back at shortstop.

“One of our outfielders — a freshmen — said he never thought of himself as a pitcher through he was the No. 1 at his school. Here, you’ve got to put a lot more emphasis on it if you want to get better at it.”

Having an abundance of quality arms has long been important when playing a 55-game NAIA schedule. But with the Crossroads League going to 36 conference games and Friday and Saturday doubleheaders, it has taken on even more significance for the Maple Leafs.

“You have a really good chance of getting on the field as a pitcher. We need pitching,” says Grubbs. “With this many innings, there’s going to be opportunities.”

Grubbs spells out his points of emphasis.

“What we’re big on the most is being able to attack hitters, have command and be able to throw secondary pitches for strikes,” says Grubbs. “We’re pretty successful with that compared to some other programs. 

“A lot of times, we’ll pitch backwards to teams. We’ll always work off our fastball. But you’ve got to be able to mix speeds and change locations.”

In 2019, the GC staff set a school record for strikeouts (345). In the past four seasons, the top four team earned run averages in Goshen’s DakStats-era history have been posted.

“We’d like to pitch to weak contact at times, too,” says Grubbs, recognizing that strikeouts tend to raise the pitch count. “We have a nice core of veterans back that are going to be able to help us (in 2021).”

Now in the sixth of seven fall practice weeks, the Maple Leafs are looking to get better even as the COVID-19 pandemic took away or shortened the 2020 spring and summer seasons.

Goshen was 7-11 overall and 2-1 in the Crossroads and on a two-game win streak when the season ended soon after a March 7 doubleheader sweep of visiting Taylor.

Newcomers and veterans are getting roughly the same amount of playing time in intrasquad games so the coaching staff can see what the players can do.

“We try to even up teams so they get a fair crack at it,” says Grubbs. “They have an opportunity.”

In a typical non-pandemic year, Goshen would be playing outside competition in the fall. Not so in 2020.

“We’re getting a lot of reps against each other,” says Grubbs. “Some nights we have to grind through it a little bit.”

The Maple Leaf World Series — Purple vs. Black — is slated for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.

“I’m hoping our guys’ perspective changed. We have an opportunity to be out here (on J. Harold “Sarge” Yoder Baseball Field). Every day, we should be thankful for after last spring.

“We talked about the mental and emotional side and getting through those struggles.”

Grubbs is part of a staff led by head coach Alex Childers and featuring Doug Wellenreiter and Brad Stoltzfus.

Right now, Childers is with his wife Amber and family at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis while Wellenreiter and Grubbs run the team.

“Alex is the type of coach that has given us so much responsibility and given us the reins to lead our components of the team,” says Grubbs. “He gives us that freedom to coach.”

During the season, Grubbs helps Childers with in-game decision-making and also handles much of GC’s recruiting.

The Leafs roster includes players from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. But it also features those from California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada and Texas plus Alberta in Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Once the pandemic hit, there was a slow start to recruiting for the 2021 class. But with the help of the admissions office, virtual visits soon became the norm.

“These were guys we’d already done research on,” says Grubbs. “We’d seen videos and texted back and forth. We had an idea of who they are and talked with their coaches.”

Following the school’s protocol and precautions, there was one short recruiting trip to Michigan in the summer. In most years, Grubbs would log many miles in pursuit of players.

Grubbs grew up just outside Bourbon, Ind., and graduated from Triton Junior/Senior High School in 1998. The Trojans won the old Northern State Conference title in 1997 and were perennial NSC contenders.

Eric Stults, who went on to star at Crossroads League member Bethel College (now Bethel University) and pitch in the big leagues, lived just a couple of miles away. In Justin’s final high school game — left-hander Stults hurled Argos to a 3-2 victory over Triton.

Landon Grubbs — Justin’s brother — was the starting right fielder and clean-up hitter on Triton’s 2001 IHSAA Class 1A state championship team.

Both Grubbs brothers were coached by Jim Shively.

“He got the best out of his players,” says Grubbs of Shively. “He had a lot of enthusiasm. He taught guys how to hit. I never knew how to hit until I got (to high school). I was also more of a pitcher type who hit at the bottom of the order.”

Grubbs ended up in the No. 2 hole on a squad featuring Kyle Gould (who is now the head baseball coach at athletic director at Crossroads League member Taylor University).

On the mound, Grubbs was 15-4 and a two-time all-NSC selection. He also played football and was academic all-state in 1997.

Grubbs was relief on the baseball team at Indiana Wesleyan University. Mark DeMichael was then head coach of the Wildcats. He learned lessons of pitching and spirituality from IWU pitching coach Mike Burchette.

“He talked about the side work and what a pitching program really looks like,” says Grubbs of Burchette. “He had a really good Christian twist to everything and would really lead us spiritually.”

After a couple years, Grubbs decided to begin his coaching career while working toward a Indiana Wesleyan degree he earned in 2002 (he got a masters in Administration of Physical Education and Sport). 

He was the freshmen coach at Marion (Ind.) High School then a freshmen coach at Kokomo (Ind.) High School

Grubbs then became varsity assistant and pitching coach to head coach Steve Shugart at Madison-Grant Junior/Senior High School in Fairmount, Ind. The Argylls regularly won 20 games as season and were state-ranked in Class 2A. M-G won a Central Indiana Conference championship.

After that, Justin and wife Emily (who also went to Triton and Indiana Wesleyan), opted to move closer to home to start a family (their daughters are Eliana and Maycee). 

The couple, married since 2004, settled in Bremen, Ind., and Justin took a job as a math teacher and assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. He was the varsity assistant for the Redskins (now RedHawks) for five years.

Grubbs continues to teach at Goshen and coach at Goshen College. When deciding whether to take the college job, Grubbs consulted with former GHS teacher and coach and GC coach DeVon Hoffman.

He also talked with GHS principal Barry Younghans, who makes it possible for him to teach and get to college games — sometimes the second half of a doubleheader.

“Alex is very flexible as a coach,” says Grubbs. “He’s even said there are times that I need you even more in practice than I do at the games because that’s where all of our work is put in and it’s just performance at the game.

“I’m thankful I’m around people that are really good people to work for at the high school and here at the college.”

Justin Grubbs is in his ninth year as baseball pitching coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. He is a graduate of Triton Junior/Senior High School in Bourbon, Ind., Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. He teaches math at Goshen High School.