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Zionsville grad Hurtubise making mark on, off diamond for Army; many from Indiana play on Cape Cod

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jacob Hurtubise was selected in the 39th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Having already invested in three years at Army, the 2016 Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate opted not to sign and resumed his regimented activities at the United States Military Academy while also sharing the field with some of the nation’s top players.

Hurtubise made a visit to West Point in mid-July of 2015. By month’s end, he had committed to Army, fulfilling his dreams of playing NCAA Division I baseball and pursuing a first-rate education and improving himself in the areas of hard work, patience and discipline.

“I’ve absolutely loved my time up here,” says Hurtubise, who is a operations research (applied mathematics) major and a center fielder for the Jim Foster-coached Black Knights. “It’s the relationships you form off the field with guys on the baseball team. You form strong bonds through military training.

“I want to make sure I am as prepared as possible for the future. It’s a degree people don’t look past.”

On the diamond, Hurtubise has gone from hitting .238 with two doubles, nine runs batted in, 32 runs scored, 22 walks and 18 stolen bases while starting 41 times as a freshman in 2017 breaking Army’s single-season steals and walks records with 42 and 50, respectively, in 2018. His 42 swipes led NCAA Division I.

That sophomore season, Hurtubise also set a single-game mark with six stolen bases against Bucknell and was named all-Patriot League first team with two Patriot Player of the Week honors and a place on and all-academic team. He hit .278 with four doubles 22 RBIs, 56 runs in 61 starts (a school record for games played in a season).

In 2019, the lefty-swinging junior batted .375 with four triples, six two-baggers, 26 RBIs, 71 runs, 69 walks and 45 stolen bases (ranked third in NCAA D-I). His on-base percentage was .541.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder was Patriot League tournament MVP for the defending league champions, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and PL first-teamer and was also a part of the ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Division I Second Team All-American and Google Cloud Academic All-District teams.

After the Black Knights’ 35-26 season, Hurtubise and other juniors went through three weeks of culminating summer training.

“We went through missions, ambushes and raids,” says Hurtubise. “It was the first opportunity to lead a platoon through those different missions.”

Many Army athletes are mixed during summer training.

“Everybody knows everybody in a sense,” says Hurtubise. “You may not know them, but you went through training with them. It makes caring for each other a lot cooler.”

After summer training, he headed to the elite Cape Cod Baseball League — already in progress. Hurtubise first landed with the Harwich Mariners. But an overabundance of outfielders saw him switch to the Orleans Firebirds.

In 21 games, Hurtubise hit .313 (20-of-64) with one triple, three doubles, two RBIs, 12 walks and six stolen bases. His on-base percentage was .429.

“I got more exposure and more consistent at-bats,” says Hurtubise of Orleans. “I faced some of the country’s best pitchers day in and day out.”

Hurtubise worked out each day on the Cape, but also found some time to go to the beach and hang out with his family, who he had not seen since January.

Jacob, 21, is the youngest son of Francois and Lisa Hurtubise. His older brother, Alec, is 24.

Many other players with ties to Indiana competed on the Cape this summer.

Right-handed pitcher Kyle Nicolas (who completed his sophomore season for Ball State University in 2019) helped the Cotuit Kettleers to the title, saving two games in the playoffs. During the regular season, the Massillon, Ohio, resident went 1-2 with four saves, a 6.28 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 21 walks in 24 1/3 innings.

Right-hander Bo Hofstra and left-hander Matt Moore also pitched for Cotuit. Hofstra wrapped his sophomore year and Moore his redshirt sophomore season at Purdue University in 2019.

Illiana Christian High School product Hofstra went 4-1 with one save, a 6.31 ERA, 20 K’s, 11 walks and 15 2/3 innings during the regular season.

Avon (Ind.) High School graduate Moore went 1-0 with an 0.67 ERA, 11 K’s and five walks in 13 1/3 innings. He also pitched in the CCBL All-Star Game.

Two University of Notre Dame players — infielder Niko Kavadas and lefty pitcher Joe Boyle — performed for Harwich. Both were CCBL all-stars coming off their second seasons for the Fighting Irish.

Lefty swinger and Penn High School graduate Kavadas hit .252 with nine homers, six doubles and 30 RBIs during the regular season.

Boyle went 1-2 with, two saves a 1.92 ERA, 28 K’s and 12 walks in 14 regular-season frames. The 6-foot-7 hurler from Goshen, Ky., also saved one game in the playoffs.

Third baseman Riley Tirotta was also with Harwich. Coming off his sophomore season at the University of Dayton, the South Bend St. Joseph graduate hit .222 from the right side with 0 homers, two doubles and one RBI during the regular season.

Two players from the University of Louisville — second baseman/right-handed pitcher Jared Poland and catcher/outfielder Zach Britton — also competed on the Cape.

Righty swinger Poland hit .271 with 0 homers, four doubles and seven RBIs and also went 3-1 with a 3.37 ERA, 18 K’s and four walks in 10 2/3 regular-season innings for the Bourne Braves. He was 1-0 during the playoffs.

Lefty batter Britton hit .286 with five homers, six doubles and 19 RBIs during the regular season for the Orleans Firebirds.

Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate Poland and Batesville (Ind.) High School graduate Britton are both coming off their sophomore campaigns at Louisville.

Lefty-swinging all-star first baseman/catcher T.J. Collett (a Terre Haute North Vigo High School graduate coming off his junior season at the University of KentuckyUniversity of Kentucky) hit .281 with nine homers, six doubles and 32 RBIs during the regular season for the Brewster Whitecaps.

After finishing at West Point and completing officer training school, Hurtubise must serve two years as active military. It’s possible that if he goes into professional baseball that he can do it through the world-class athlete program and be a promotional tool while he is paid ballplayer.

Hurtubise played his first organized baseball at age 7. His first two seasons were spent at Eagle Creek Little League in Indianapolis. His family then moved when he was a third graders and he participated at Zionsville Little League.

From the fifth through eighth grade, he played travel ball for coaches Terry Bohl and Ken Elsbury and the Zionsville Longhorns (which became the Zionsville Baseball Club).

In high school, Hurtubise played two summers for the Indiana Nitro and one for USAthletic.

Ten days after Zionsville lost to Roncalli in the 2016 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game2016 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game, Eagles lead-off man and L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award recipient Hurtubise was off to West Point for six weeks of basic training.

Then as now, Jered Moore led the ZHS program.

“He was an awesome coach,” says Hurtubise of Moore. “That team we had my senior year was one of the best not only in the state, but in the country.

“They made it to semistate the next year. That shows what a good program Zionsville has and a bright future moving forward.”

While visiting daughter Macy Moore, a Purdue manager and an intern with Brewster this summer, Jered Moore saw Hurtubise play two CCBL games with Harwich and later two playoff games with Orleans.

He was a leader,” says Moore of Hurtubise’s time at Zionsville. “He’s one of my favorites I’ve ever coached. He got it started for us. He immediately put the defense on their toes.

“He was a threat to run any time he was on-base.”

The Zionsville Class of 2016 produced six D-I players — Hurtubise, Jordan Cox (Dayton), James Meyer (Valparaiso), Jack Pilcher (Butler), Nick Prather (Florida Atlantic) and R.J. Wagner (Dayton). Prather has since transferred to Lynn University.

All but two of the Zionsville players who got into the state championship game in 2016 went on to play college baseball. Besides those already mentioned there were seniors Drew Bertram (Purdue) and Jacob Hurd (Taylor) and sophomores Riley Bertram (Michigan), Sam Egdell (Otterbein) and Nick Nelson (DePauw).

Moore says Chad Garisek, a Zionsville junior in 2016, is hoping to play at Indiana University-Kokomo. Senior Nolan Elsbury went on to be a student at Purdue. Senior Stephen Damm is a student at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and a member of Moore’s Zionsville coaching staff.

Hurtubise is now back at West Point going through organization week. The first day of class is Monday, Aug. 19. He will also be preparing for his final baseball season with the Black Knights.

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Army left-handed hitter and center fielder Jacob Hurtubise was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2019, but opted to go back to the United States Military Academy for his final  year. He is a graduate of Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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Through three seasons (2017-19), Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate has 101 stolen bases for the Army Black Knights. He paced NCAA Division I with 42 in 2018 and was third with 45 in 2019. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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Jacob Hurtubise hit .375 with four triples, six two-baggers, 26 RBIs, 71 runs, 69 walks and 45 stolen bases (ranked third in NCAA D-I) for Army in 2019. The on-base percentage for the graduate of Zionsville (Ind.) Community High school was .541. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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With his speed and batting eye, Jacob Hurtubise has been a threat at the top of the order for the Black Knights of Army baseball since 2017. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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Jacob Hurtubise, a 2016 Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate, played his third season of NCAA Division I baseball at Army in 2019 and was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He opted to stay in school and played in the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

 

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Gregor displaying baseball tools, helping others reach their goals

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Conrad Gregor does his best to use baseball’s five physical tools (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power).

As a third baseman, first baseman and left fielder for the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League, the lefty swinger has played in 72 games for the 2019 season (through Aug. 9) and is hitting .324 with nine home runs, 15 doubles, four triples, 49 runs batted in, 68 runs scored, 61 walks, 34 stolen bases and a .459 on-base percentage.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has amassed 22 multi-hit games with four in a “friendly” against the Cuba National Team and four three-hit games.

Batting No. 3 for manager Brooks Carey, the graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School (2010) and Vanderbilt UniversityVanderbilt University (2016) went 0-of-3 then 1-for-1 with a double, three runs scored two walks and one stolen base Friday as New Jersey (40-32) beat Sussex County 4-0 and 10-1 at Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, N.J., and moved within 5.5 games of the league-leading Miners.

Besides the tools, Gregor also sees the importance of using mental skills, work ethic, mindset, consistency and a desire for excellence.

“It’s what’s between your two ears,” says Gregor of mental skills. “As a pro, you play on a nightly basis. You have to survive the ups and downs of being a hitter in baseball.

“I have to get my body ready to play 140-plus games a year. You have to be a good teammate at all times — even when things aren’t going well for  you individually. Have a ‘team at-bat’ — no matter what that may be.”

Gregor, 27, grew up playing the Carmel Dads’ ClubCarmel Dads’ Club and for the Carmel Pups.

In middle school, he went with the Indiana Prospects. In high school, he joined the Midland Redskins and helped them to an American Amateur Baseball Congress Connie Mack World Series title in 2009. He played a couple of high school falls with the Kanas City Royals Scout Team.

Eric Lentz was Gregor’s head coach at Carmel High School. They have stayed in contact through the years.

“He’s got a great baseball mind,” says Gregor of Lentz. “I learned a lot from him. He’s about bringing it everyday, keeping the blinders on, doing the little things and playing team baseball to win games.”

“I’ve passed it on to the people I teach.”

During the baseball off-season, Gregor runs Anchor Down Sports Performance in downtown Carmel and many of his clients are junior high, high school and college ballplayers.

“I want to help people the best that I can,” says Gregor, who completed his finance and entrepreneurship degree during fall semesters after beginning his pro baseball career in 2013 and is certified in weightlifting and functional movement systems.

Anchor Down — a name that gives a nod to the Vanderbilt Commodores — has a presence on social media, including Facebook and YouTube.

Gregor was selected in the 40th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox, but opted to go to Vanderbilt. He played three seasons for the Commodores (2011-13), hitting .327 with nine homers, 45 doubles, 115 runs batted in, 117 runs scored, 33 stolen bases and a .444 on-base percentage over 186 games.

“It was a great honor to be able to play and learn from one the best-regarded baseball coaches in the sport,” says Gregor of head coach Tim Corbin, who led Vandy to the College World Series championship in 2019 and is to be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020. “He provided me with a lot of useful lessons.

“He helped me become not only a great baseball player, but a great person.”

Picked in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by the Houston Astros, Gregor signed that June then had an unforgettable family moment in 2014 in Davenport, Iowa.

Conrad slugged his first Midwest League home run and his father — Marty — caught the ball. Marty and Megan Gregor had made their way out to a restaurant near right field and Marty was there to collect the souvenir.

Gregor was in the Astros system into 2017 then played 69 games with New Jersey before being picked up with the Boston Red Sox organization at the end of 2017. He played 12 games in he Red Sox chain along with five for the independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers and 98 with the Can-Am League’s Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders in 2018.

The Can-Am League all-star hopes to help New Jersey to a league title in 2019 (the regular season ends Sept. 2 and the playoffs conclude Sept. 15) then come back to Carmel to re-charge and then head out again.

Gregor is currently shopping around for a chance to play winter ball in Mexico, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic.

“I’m at the stage of my career where it’s ‘what have you done for me lately?’ It’s performance-based,” says Gregor. “I’m looking to continue playing.”

Always a righty thrower and lefty batter, Gregor sees advantages in swinging from that side of the plate.

“Being left-handed gives you a head start running to first base and you’re facing a lot of right-handed pitchers so the off-speed pitch is coming into your barrel.”

When teaching hitters, Gregor likes to point to the great left-handed swings — like the sweet one with the high finish used by Ken Griffey Jr. — and encourage his students to use what works best for them.

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Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

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Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. Gregor has also played in the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox organizations and owns and operates Anchor Down Sports Performance in Carmel.  (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

Mt. Vernon (Posey), Southern Indiana product Brown contributing in Braves system at bat, behind the plate

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Brown takes pride in being a contributor on both offense and defense.

Take a recent game for the Florida Fire Frogs at the Daytona Tortugas.

The lefty-swinging Brown produced the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning and then went behind the plate in the bottom half to guide his pitcher and the team to victory.

“I got a change-up and doubled over the right fielder’s head and we went ahead 2-1,” says Brown. “We won with our closer (Daysbel Hernandez).

“It’s always nice to help the pitchers out. In the end of the day, they’re the one making the pitches. But I hope they feel comfortable throwing to me. That’s always a big priority to me.”

When his son was age 3 or 4, Kevin Brown noticed that the boy was turning into a lefty. Being a professional catcher himself (the elder Brown was a receiver for the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox between 1996-2002), he let his boy keep swinging from left side but changed him to a right-handed thrower.

Logan Brown, who was born in Evansville, Ind., grew up in nearby Mount Vernon and played Mount Vernon Youth Baseball and travel ball for the Mount Vernon Wildbats (coached by Dan McNamara and including future high school and college teammate Drake McNamara), Southern Indiana Sharks (coached by Kevin Brown, J.D. Mobley and Kevin Krizan and featuring teammates Cody Mobley and Austin Krizan) and Evansville Wolfepack (coached by former big league infielder Joe Lis) and for Mount Vernon (Posey) High School.

Along the way, he played some in the infield. But his primary position was catcher and his high school coach — Paul Quinzer — trusted him to call pitches.

“(Quinzer) was a great coach,” says Brown, who was an all-Southwest Indiana Conference performer after batting .384 as a senior. “He knows you have that kind of potential.”

The trend of letting him call pitches continued for Brown at the University of Southern Indiana, where Jeremy Kuester was the pitching coach and Tracy Archuleta the head coach.

“He’s a fantastic coach,” says Brown of Archuleta. “He wants what’s best for every single player. He knows how to run a program.

“If he knows you can do better, he’s going to let you know. He knows you have that potential. He’ll say things like ‘I know you have more in your tank.’”

Archuleta has led the USI to two NCAA Division II national championships. The Screaming Eagles went 106-63 during Brown’s time on the team (2016-18) as he hit .313, .276 and .338 with 127 starts. USI won regional titles in 2016 and 2018.

Brown notes that many of his minor league teammates and opponents played D-II baseball.

Selected in the 35th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Braves, Brown has continued calling pitches as a professional.

“It’s a lot of reading the hitters and things like that,” says Brown. “It’s more than just throwing pitches. You see how the hitters react to it. You see their swing path.”

The Kissimmee- based Fire Frogs play in the 12-team Advanced Class-A Florida State League. Seeing a team one time is enough for Brown to pick up on hitters’ strengths and weaknesses.

“You can’t get repetitive or they’ll sit on pitches,” says Brown. “It can’t be the same rhythm for every at-bat.

“Throw a throw a question mark in there to confuse them. A 3-2 curve ball is enough to get them guessing.”

Brown’s background in the infield also serves as catcher.

“It translates,” says Brown. “The pitcher may spike a curve ball or slider. You stay through it and pick it.”

With a bat in his bands, Brown looks to make adjustments.

“I know the movement on baseballs is a little better (each step up the minor league ladder),” says Brown. “I’m sticking to my approach. I like to think ‘drive the ball the other way.’ But it depends on what the pitcher is doing as the game and the at-bat goes on.

“To be a good hitter, you’ve got to make adjustments throughout the at-bat.”

Brown, who turns 23 on Sept. 14, began the 2019 season with the Low Class-A Rome (Ga.) Braves and played in 51 games, hitting .301 with one home run, 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in.

In his first 35 games with the Fire Frogs, Brown is hitting .272 with three homers, five doubles and 16 RBI. He his hitting .289 with six runs driven in over his last 10 games.

Brown says he likes to emphasize his strengths and work on what he understands to be his weaknesses during the off-season.

The next two stages in the Braves system are Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett (Ga.).

Though he is not yet sure what the Braves have in mind for him at season’s end, Brown says expects to be in Mount Vernon at some point and helping his father at the Kevin Brown Baseball & Softball School.

Kevin Brown played baseball at USI while Logan’s mother, Rachel (then Murray and now Daniel) played tennis (Logan also played the sport in high school). Logan’s parents have remarried and he has seventh brothers and sisters in the Mount Vernon/Evansville area, ranging from 2 to 20.

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Logan Brown, a Mount Vernon (Posey) High School graduate and former University of Southern Indiana player, is now a catcher in the Atlanta Braves system. (Florida Fire Frogs Photo)

 

Jasper (Ind.) Reds making a stamp on baseball since 1893

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a big deal in Jasper, Ind.

The Dubois County seat is home to the Jasper High School Wildcats — five-time IHSAA state champions, four-time state runners-up and 16-time state finalists.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame is housed at Vincennes University-Jasper.

But long before these happenings, the Jasper Reds were on the diamond scene.

Established as the Jasper Acmes in 1893 and soon changed to the Red Jackets (then Reds) to match the colors of early uniforms, the Reds have been a baseball presence in Jasper ever since. The only interruptions were in 1918, 1922 and 1964-66.

In the early days, players would share in the team’s profits — if there were any — so the team was referred to as semi-pro. That label stuck even after the pay stopped.

There’s no age limit for players. For years, most were in their 20’s and 30’s. This year, there were two 30-somethings among mostly college-age athletes.

The 2019 Reds went 13-0 during the regular season then lost twice at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan. Some of the top players this summer were pitcher Bo Daves, second baseman Austin Simmers and shortstop Josh Weidenbenner.

It was the Reds’ seventh NBC World Series appearance with 1993, 1994, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 being the other years.

The 2018 Reds went to Louisville to play in the Bluegrass World Series, an event that features former major leaguers.

After Jasper High is done for the season, the Reds play home games at Alvin C. Ruxer Field (formerly Recreation Field).

“They are good to us,” says business manager Bob Alles, noting that Jasper High head coach Terry Gobert mowed the grass on a Sunday so it would be ready for the Reds. “We get (cooling) fans in the dugouts. They bend over backward to help us.

“So many people are good to us. People in Jasper want to keep this team going. We go from one year to the next.”

Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Ruxer once pitched for the Reds and was a big baseball backer. He set up trust funds for the team that helped to defray season costs.

Dating back to 1903, the Reds have also played at South Side Park, Jasper Academy and Gutzweiler Park.

Bob Alles has been with the Reds for 47 years. The 1971 Jasper graduate (he played for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Don Noblitt) who had one at-bat for the University of Evansville and became a coach (he was an assistant to Hall of Famer Ray Howard) and teacher as well as Reds manager from 1974-93 and 1996.

“I’ve poured my life into this thing,” says Bob Alles. “It takes in inordinate amount of time to get liability insurance, uniforms and equipment.

“It’s very, very time-consuming.”

A retired school teacher, Bob Alles recruits players and raises funds, trying to keep costs down for his athletes, especially the collegians with student loans.

“The easiest thing to get is the players,” says Bob Alles. “The other things are far more difficult.”

Like finding opponents. There are none in close proximity to Jasper.

“When teams come here it’s a free game for them (except gas money),” says Bob Alles. “We have a little money for umpires and a field.

“What I want from (opponents) is two games. We’ll play anybody. It’s very hard to get teams. That’s why we try to play a doubleheader.”

The weather was unkind to the Reds this season with seven rainouts.

“We try to play at least 20 games,” says Bob Alles. “We used to play 30 and 40. We can’t find that many any more.”

Bill Alles, brother of Bob, has served as Reds manager since 1999. Another brother, Tom Alles, is team historian. He wrote a 10-part series in 1993 as the team hit the 100-year mark.

Charlie “Kitty” Girard pitched for the Reds and a little with the 1910 Philadelphia Phillies.

Roman “Romie” Pfeffer was a star for the Reds in the ‘30s and ‘40s and was in the first class of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. Romie and his two brothers — Revard aka “Riff” and Urban aka “Nigg” — were on the Jasper team that played in the Midwest Tournament at Terre Haute, where National/Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was commissioner.

Bob Alles played three summers (1970-72) for Jasper American Legion Post 147 — two for “Nigg” Pfeffer (good friend of Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Gil Hodges, who may have suited up for the Reds for one game in 1941) and one for Noblitt.

Van Lingle Mungo pitched a few games for Jasper during a diamond career that included time with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.

Three Reds are in the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame — Bob Alles, Ruxer and Tim Barrett (who pitched in the big leagues with the 1988 Montreal Expos).

Bob, Bill and Tom’s father — Jerome “Chick” Alles — played for the Reds from 1950-63 and was a three-term mayor, concluding with 1991. All four men are in the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame along with several others with ties to Jasper.

Brenda Alles, Chick’s wife and the boys’ mother, has also provided support throughout the years.

“We just asked guys to play hard,” says Bob Alles. “If they hustle, I can live with losses. It’s an experience. We like a challenge. We love baseball.

“My brother (Bill) and I don’t get paid to do this. We give money to do this. I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had all these years. It’s all about relationships in life. How did you treat people?

“We try to treat them good.”

Since the centennial in 1993, the Jasper Reds have held a reunion. The next one is slated for April 25, 2020. Follow the Reds on Twitter at @JasperReds, Instagram at jasperredsbaseball and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jasper.reds.52.

 

 

 

JASPERREDSUNIFORMSThe Jasper (Ind.) Reds have been on the baseball scene since 1893 and have worn many styles of uniforms. Here are a few. (Jasper Reds Photo)

TOMALLESBILLALLESBOBALLESJASPERREDSThe Alles family has long represented the Jasper (Ind.) Reds baseball team. Here is Tom (left), Bill and Bob. (Jasper Reds Photo)

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Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Northwest Indiana adult baseball league lets men continue to play boys’ game

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fun, camaraderie and competition is on display at diamonds around The Region when the men of the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league come to play the game they enjoyed as boys.

Line drives and laughter filled the air Aug. 3 as the league gathered at Robertsdale Complex — home of Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League — in Whiting for the NWINBA’s 16th annual all-star game.

Hours before teams managed by Luis Gonzalez and Geovanny DeJesus took the field, a home run derby was staged. Twenty-one players entered for $10 each. Danny Garcia of the Brewers took the $210 first prize, besting Theo Owens of the Cubs in a five-pitch swing-off.

The league, established in 2003 by Steve Carpenter, is for players 28-and-over but there is a plus-3 rule that allows for three players per team that must turn 25 by the start of the season.

The oldest player in the league in 2019 is the Yankees’ Hector Tellez, 63. He joined the Diamondbacks in the loop’s second season while working in East Chicago. Mike Bochenek and Wally Bochenek were in the league then and still are playing. He now travels from his home in Coal City, Ill., which is more than 60 miles from Whiting.

“This league has developed so much since it began,” says Tellez. “We’ve all improved — myself included.

“I’m fortunate to be on the field with so many good players.”

The season goes from late April through September. This year, there are 18 regular-season games plus playoffs. Most contests are on the weekends, but there are some Wednesday night games.

“We’ve played just about any place in northwest Indiana,” says NWINABA president Astros player Jeramy Ortiz. The main fields this season have been at Robertsale, Dyer Babe Ruth, Kenny Lofton Field in East Chicago and Heartland Park in St. John. Each team plays two games at U.S. Steel Yard, home of the independent professional Gary SouthShore RailCats.

Teams used Major League Baseball names and wear replica jerseys. The 2019 NWINABA sports 210 players that come northwest Indiana, Chicagoland and the South Bend area and features the Astros, A’s, Brewers, Cubs, Mariners, Marlins, Nationals, Pirates, Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees.

By league choice, players swing BBCOR metal or wood bats.

Ortiz is in his ninth NWINABA season. Why does he play?

“I love baseball,” says Ortiz, who is 38 and lives in Munster. “I played in high school (at Hammond Bishop Noll for Craig Pavlina and Doug Ferry Jr.) and college (at Muscatine Community College in Iowa and Culver-Stockton College in Missouri) and was looking for something different than softball.

“It’s Little League for adults. We have players who played just played Little League to guys who played in the pros.”

There are a number of former college players, including those from NCAA Division I schools.

Pitching varies widely.

“There are guys who bring it and those who use control and junk,” says Ortiz.

Will Lanter, 45, is manager of the Mariners and in his 10th season.

“I don’t want to give up the game yet,” says Lanter. “This is family. It’s friends.”

Many games feature full bleachers. There are cookouts on Father’s Day weekend. Little League players come out and watch the older generation.

Like Ortiz, Lanter is involved at Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth. They have helped with field maintenance, fundraisers and more.

“We need to keep the program going,” says Lanter of the youth league. “Without these programs, these kids have nowhere to go.”

In his 10th season, Mike Gerlach, 53, lives in Crown Point and is Red Sox manager. He is a former youth coach. He once coached his son, Mitchell, and now father and son are teammates. Mike’s brother, Keith, also plays for the team.

“It’s one big family in this league,” says Mike Gerlach.

Kyle Hon, 28, resides in Cedar Lake and is manager of the Mariners. This is his third NWINABA campaign. He is a Lake Central High School graduate. He did not play baseball for LC, but has been involved with travel ball or town ball since age 5. He played in a now-defunct adult league in Crown Point.

“I love the game,” says Hon. “I want to play until Father Time tells me I can’t.”

Ken Henriott, 43, played for legendary LaPorte High School coach Ken Schreiber.

“He was probably the best coach in the country,” says Henriott of the man inducted into 13 different halls of fame.

Henriott played for Schreiber’s Slicers and then at Southwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University.

In his first season in the league and an all-star representing the Yankees, Henriott enjoys playing in front of his two children.

“It means a lot to me,” says Henriott. “They get to see what they couldn’t see back in the day.

“I’m a pitcher and I can still hang with these guys. You always keep the batter guessing. It goes back to the basics. You use your fastball and change-up and then the curveball or slider.

“It’s the pitcher against the hitter — always. It’s a chess game. It’s tough to fool these guys. They’re all good players.”

Luis Gonzalez, 35, is manager of the Yankees. The Hammond resident is in his third season in the league. He played at George Washington High School in Chicago.

“I like this league because it caters to older players,” says Gonzalez. “I can’t keep up with the high school kids.

“It’s competitive and a lot of fun.”

Gonzalez says adult baseball for someone married with children is ruled by two things.

“It’s what you’re family is willing to let you do and if your body can keep it up,” says Gonzalez.

Chris Evans, 32, lives in Hammond and is manager of the Nationals. He is in his fourth NWINABA season.

He entered the league as White Sox infielder, managed the Diamondbacks for one season then spent the off-season recruiting players for the Nationals.

“Last year we had a pretty good team,” says Evans, who currently skippers an 8-5 squad.

Ortiz says the league is looking to expand and may create a 38-and-over division in 2020. The NABA, headquartered in Littleton, Colo., allows for flexibility in local leagues and sponsors events for various age divisions, including 50-and-over, 60-and-over and 65-plus.

For more information on the Northwest Indiana League, email NWINABABaseball@gmail.com.

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James Frasure (Cubs) swings for the fences during the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Theo Owens (Cubs) competes the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. Danny Garcia (Brewers) beat Owens in the finals. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Derrick Goad (Tigers) smack the ball during the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeremy Ortiz (Astros) gets loose for the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star game Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)LUISGONZALEZCHRISEVANSNWINABA

Luis Gonzalez (Yankees) and Chris Evans (Nationals) consult prior to the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The patch for the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star game Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league has a close relationship with the Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League and held its all-star festivities Aug. 3 at Robertsdale Complex in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeramy Ortiz (Astros) is president of the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league.

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The Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league held its all-star festivities Aug. 3 at Robertsdale Complex in Whiting. (NWINABA Photo)

Jurjevic takes over Indiana Chargers, now based in Fort Wayne

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With even more of an emphasis on strength and conditioning, the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization is moving into its next phase.

Evan Jurjevic, a former Chargers player who has been on the staff since 2015, has taken over as owner and director of operations and will still be an instructor and strength coach.

The Chargers will be based solely in Fort Wayne. To begin with, there will only be 14U, 15U, 16U and 17U travel teams.

“I want to make sure we have a quality product so we will decrease the amount of teams initially,” says Jurjevic. “We want to continue to develop players both on and off the field.”

Joel Mishler, George Hofsommer and Ben Bailey founded the Chargers in 2008 and teams were based in Goshen and Fort Wayne. He will serve as a mentor during the transition.

“What he’s done with developing baseball players at all ages is something I wanted to keep going,” says Jurjevic of Mishler. “I want to prepare them for life.

“Baseball has taught me a lot more about life lessons than the game itself — things like commitment, teamwork and communication.”

Mishler, who has coached baseball for more than three decades, calls Jurjevic “a superstar person, physical therapist and baseball guy.”

Tryouts for the 2019-20 season were held for Aug. 1 and another session is scheduled Aug. 12 at World Baseball Academy, 1701 Freeman St., Fort Wayne.

Starting in November, there will be more than 120 hours of off-season training time at The Summit, 1025 Rudisill Blvd., Fort Wayne.

There will be a weight room, pull-down batting cage, PlyoCare ball and J-Band walls and plenty of space for skill, strength and agility development.

Like before, training with the Chargers is not limited to the organization’s own athletes.

“We want players to come train with us, even if they don’t play with our team, to give them the best opportunity to excel at the game,” says Jurjevic. “We want them to get bigger, stronger and faster.”

Jurjevic, a LaPorte (Ind.) High School graduate, holds an undergraduate degree in exercise physiology and master’s degree in education from Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn., where he played baseball. He just completed course work and now needs to complete three clinical for toward his doctorate of physical therapy at Trine University-Fort Wayne.

Contact Jurjevic or the Chargers by email at inchargers@gmail.com or Twitter at @Strength_IC.

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Evan Jurjevic has added owner and operator to his titles of instructor and strength trainer for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization. The Chargers are now solely-headquartered in Fort Wayne.