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Indiana Land Sharks travel organization enjoys great growth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Can’t you see them circling … the bases?

The Indiana Land Sharks are coming to a diamond near you.

The travel organization based in northern Indiana and southern Indiana is fielding 26 teams — 22 baseball and four softball — with 290 players in 2017.

Ages are 8U to 17U for baseball and 10U to 16U for softball. The only baseball division that does not have more than one team in 17U. There is one team each for the four softball age groups. Teams are distinguished by the colors blue, gray and black.

The first Land Sharks team was run by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and South Bend resident Jim Reinebold in 2003 at the invitation of Clint Emberton (father of Chad Emberton), Dr. Karl Schultz (father of Kyle Schultz) and Russ Stines (father of Brenden Stines).

The Land Sharks were a top-10 finisher in a big tournament at Wide World of Sports in Florida.

A later team featured future major leaguer Ryan Strausborger.

The program was re-birthed with one one in 2009 and expanded to five in 2012.

In 2015, a new indoor training facility was added in Niles, Mich., and the Land Sharks began fielding girls softball teams.

A second indoor facility (Niles Sports Warehouse) is managed by the Land Sharks.

“We just grew so quickly,” says Jim Robinson, Land Sharks athletic director and an owner along with Marc Waite, John Baxter and Joel Reinebold. “We’re offering a product people want.”

Based on training space, teams were actually turned away.

All coaches are volunteers and many are associated with high schools.

“We are advocates of the high school game,” says Robinson.

8U players typically play three to six tournaments per season. These families are exploring travel baseball to see if it’s for them.

“We encourage (players on) 8U teams to play rec ball and experience travel ball,” says Robinson. “9U also plays at limited travel schedule.”

By the time they reach 10U, they are usually playing a full travel schedule. From that age until high school, they might play up to 50 games from early April until Aug. 1 (when high school sports practices start).

Needing more pitching, high school teams may carry 14 or 15 players on a roster. The younger ones usually go with 11.

High school players cease off-season training with the Land Sharks once their school teams fill their rosters and they don’t begin their travel season until they are released from their school teams, making for a shorter season of four or five tournaments.

Tryouts are usually held the second weekend of August.

While there is natural attrition as families move or players gravitate to another sport or activity, Robinson says retention is pretty high from season to season, meaning many teams may be only looking to fill a few spots.

“People follow good organization and good coaching,” says Robinson. “The chemistry of the parents is also very important. (Travel ball) is your summer family. Kids travel and room together (on road trips). So many families have multiple kids playing. They depend on people they trust.”

Some teams stay together year after year. Take the current 17U baseball team. This team — coached by Tom Washburn, John Kehoe and Dennis Ryans — has been together since 10U.

This familiarity has been a key to development.

“We’re different from a lot of the teams we play,” says Washburn, who coaches older son Andrew (lead-off hitter on the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state champion South Bend St. Joseph Indians) on the 17U team and also younger son Joseph on a 10U team. “Each year we can teach these guys a little bit more. Many travel teams don’t have time to practice and it becomes knowledge vs. talent.”

New Prairie High School graduate Washburn played for Tony Robichaux at McNeese State. South Bend Washington graduate Kehoe was in the Toronto Blue Jays system. South Bend LaSalle product Ryans the New York Yankees organization.

Washburn calls the 10U team a hybrid with travel and Chet Waggoner Little League games on its schedule.

In either scenario, it’s all about learning how to play.

“At 10, I’m more concerned with their development than winning a bunch of trophies,” says Washburn. “We learn to run pick-offs at second, the hit-and-run and proper bunt. We learn about running a first and third defense and cut-offs. It’s amazing to me. These 10 year-old kids pick it up quick.”

Washburn, a longtime Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp instructor who took his sons to former Land Shark Strausborger for tips at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center during the winter, says the reason so many people gravitate to travel ball and away from Little League and the like is because it offers more traditional rules at younger ages.

“It’s just different baseball,” says Washburn. “The younger boys learn to lead off, hold runners on as pitchers and catchers learn to give signs.”

Washburn also sees the appeal of summer travel ball tournaments with a concentrated group of talented player to college coaches who are busy coaching their own players during the spring.

Each Land Sharks team typically makes at least one big trip. Robinson had a team in Omaha, Neb., tournament last weekend, where they got to take in College World Series games.

Land Sharks teams play in Baseball Player’s Association, Gameday USA, Bomb Squad, Bullpen, Pastime, United States Specialty Sports Association and National Softball Association events.

Some popular game sites include Grand Park, Newton Park, City-County Athletic Complex in Warsaw, some Michigan City parks and Belleville Softball Complex in South Bend.

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The Indiana Land Sharks travel baseball and softball organization traces its origins back to the 2003 Michiana Land Sharks. In 2017, the outfit has 26 teams — 22 baseball and four softball. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Diamondbacks’ Bryk still learning after decades around baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bill Bryk is a grateful guy.

He has his health and he has a job he thoroughly enjoys.

Bryk began his professional baseball odyssey as a player in 1969.

At 66 and a cancer survivor, the Schererville resident is still in pro ball in his seventh season special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I’ve been cancer-free for four years. Thank the Good Lord,” says Bryk, who lost a daughter, Becky, to leukemia and friend and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to salivary gland cancer. “I’ve been blessed to be in this game as long as I have. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“It’s time to give back to the game.”

The former Bill Brykczysnki grew up on the south side of Chicago, graduated from Thornridge High School in Dolton, Ill., and pitched four seasons in the Washington Senators organization. He started coaching college ball in 1974 and managing independent teams in 1977.

He worked with the San Diego Padres 1979-82, managing Gwynn in Walla Walla in 1981. When Gwynn was inducted at Cooperstown in 2007, Bryk was his guest.

In 1982, he left the Padres to work for the Pittsburgh Pirates, both in scouting and player development. Over the next 18 years, Bryk would work as a scouting supervisor, special assignment scout, assistant scouting director, assistant farm director, national cross-checker and pitching coordinator.

“That’s where I really learned the business,” says Bryk.

In November 2010, he joined the Diamondbacks.

Almost five decades in, Bryk is still gaining knowledge.

“I’m still learning,” says Bryk, the 2013 Midwest Scout of the Year. “We’ve got sabermetrics, analytics — all this stuff.”

Arizona, where Mike Hazen is executive vice president and general manager, has three major league scouts (Todd Greene and Mike Piatnik are the other two) with duties divided up among the 30 MLB teams.

Based in northwest Indiana where he’s called home since 1988, Bryk goes out to scout the 10 teams in the American League Central and National League Central. He keeps a report on every player, logging their strengths and weaknesses.

“Are they getting better or getting worse?,” says Bryk. “But — most importantly — what’s inside of them? Are they gamers? Overachievers? Underachievers?

“(Major league scouts are) more detectives more than anything else. You’ve got to find everything you can on them. That’s where contacts come in. You have people you trust in every organization. When you get old and gray-headed you know more people.”

One baseball person who Bryk has known for a long time is Mark Haley. He scouted the California native as a player and has maintained a friendship as Haley has coached and managed in the White Sox and Diamondbacks systems (he is now director of training and instruction of the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and coaches travel baseball).

Bryk, who advises on player trades, acquisitions and roster

moves, has seen all his assigned teams once already and is going back for another look. He plans to take in the Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians series and see New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox after that.

“I’m tightening up my reports,” says Bryk, who will meet with other pro scouts in Arizona at the end of June to discuss organizational needs (as the July 31 trade deadline looms). “We used to do it a little bit later. A lot of teams don’t know if they’re going to be buyers or sellers yet.”

Since he is a pro scout, Bryk was not directly involved with the recent Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He did attend a post-draft Pro Day hosted Tuesday, June 20 by the Hammond Lakers.

“There were 65 hungry guys — guys worth seeing,” says Bryk of the free tryout event held by Lakers general manager Anthony Spangler. “We gave everybody a fair chance.”

Bryk notes that independent baseball still brings talent to the majors. Evidence of that is David Peralta. The outfielder played American Association before being signed by the Diamondbacks. He went 4-for-5 Wednesday, June 21 vs. the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

Chris Carminucci, Arizona’s independent league coordinator and pro scout, runs independent league tryout camps during spring training in Arizona and in the Chicago suburbs at the home of the Windy City Thunderbolts. That team just sent several players into affiliated baseball, including pitcher Brady Muller to the Diamondbacks.

Hammond Bishop Noll High School graduate Matt Pobereyko, a former Diamondbacks minor leaguer, just signed with the New York Mets organization after spending time with the independent Florence (Ky.) Freedom.

“I’m glad to see he got another chance,” says Bryk of Pobereyko. “I had more 53rd-rounders make it than high draft picks.”

Rob Mackowiak, a 1994 Lake Central High School graduate, was drafted by Bryk for the Pirates in the Round 53 (when the draft went that deep). The outfielder/third baseman made over 2,600 plate appearances in the majors with the Pirates, White Sox, Padres and Washington Nationals.

“It’s what’s in their heart,” says Bryk in determining who makes it or not. “How much do they want it?”

Even with 40 MLB Draft rounds now, talent is sometimes missed and those players can sometimes get a second chance.

“Scouting is not an exact science,” says Bryk. “You try to make the best decisions you can. Sometimes guys are late bloomers. I ran 20 camps a year as an area scout with the Pirates.”

Bryk also gives back to baseball as an instructor in the winter months at the Morris Baseball and Softball Center inside Omni 41 in Schererville.

Sometimes an agent will send a player to Bryk to straighten out his mechanics.

One such player is Dominican right-hander Ariel Hernandez, who worked with Bryk and his son, Billy Bryk Jr., who has coached in independent and affiliated baseball.

Hernandez has been averaging nearly 99 mph with his four-seam fastball out of the bullpen for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017.

Bryk says he did not charge the agent for his services. It was just a part of giving back to baseball.

BILLBRYK

Bill Bryk began his association with professional baseball in 1969. At 66, the Schererville, Ind., resident is in his seventh season as special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Arizona Diamondbacks Photo)

 

Lewandowski oversees community asset as Indians president and GM

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Victory Field has become a baseball destination in downtown Indianapolis.

Indiana high school baseball teams and their fan bases look to visit as part of the IHSAA State Finals.

As home of the Indianapolis Indians — Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates — the “Vic” regularly welcomes more than 600,000 spectators to enjoy what Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski calls a community asset.

On Friday and Saturday, June 16-17, Victory Field was the site of the 51st IHSAA State Finals (Indianapolis Cathedral, South Bend St. Joseph, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Lanesville took home state titles and the Irish, Indians, Raiders and Eagles placed a jersey in a case on the concourse).

The turnstiles clicked to the tune of 9,446 for the two days, including 6,664 for three Saturday contests.

It was the 21st year Victory Field has been site for the state championships. Other than a few times in Lafayette, the state tournament finals have been hosted by the Indians at Bush Stadium before the move to the corner of Maryland and West.

Lewandowski is proud to welcome passionate baseball fans from all over Indiana.

“We look forward to it,” says Lewandowski. “Hosting the state high school championships is part of why we’re here. It’s certainly something we look forward to every year.

“We just think the state championships should be held in Indianapolis.”

Victory Field was host to the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2001 (15,868 saw Louisville’s Adam Dunn of the International League and Tacoma’s Juan Thomas of the Pacific Coast League take MVP honors).

What about bringing the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series to Victory Field (it’s in Muncie in 2017 and South Bend in 2018)?

“More than anything in regards to (the series) it’s scheduling,” says Lewandowski. “This is one weekend we have asked off for with our league so we can host the state championships. To ask for more and more and more makes it hard to do.”

Lewandowski is in his 24th year with the Indians and third as general manager. In 2016, he was also named president of the club’s board of directors and the International League Executive of the Year.

The graduate of Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School and Anderson University brings enthusiasm to his job — one that often demands long hours.

“When the Indians are home seven or eight days in a row, we’re here 12, 13, 14 hours — 9 o’clock in the morning until the game is over at night,” says Lewandowski. “We get a reprieve if we have a day game scheduled, where you can compact everything quickly into the day and get to go home at night.

“That’s what most of us on staff love and hate at the same time. We love the event, the ballpark, the smiles or peoples’ faces. But it always takes you away from home and family, summer weekends. But you understand that when you get into what I call the ‘event world’ or baseball business. It truly becomes your lifestyle.

“You need to have great support at home. If you’re married and/or have kids and all that, it becomes more difficult. It’s a labor of love and we enjoy it.”

Lewandowski and wife Christina have two children — Alyssa and Sam.

Victory Field opened for business during the 1996 season.

“We’ve already completely 20 in downtown Indianapolis, which is really hard to believe,” says Lewandowski. “But we’ve had to work really hard at it.

“We think we have been the great downtown driver for people to Indianapolis.

“We work really hard to be an important part of the community. We want to always be able to give back.”

Drawing from central Indiana and beyond and a mix of season tickets, walk-ups and group sales, the Indians drew 636,888 for 71 dates in 2016 and were over 660,000 in both 2014 and 2015. For the first 33 dates of 2017, Tribe attendance was 256,643 — an average of 7,777.

Lewandowski says he expects the average to rise as the Indians hit the summer part of their season and group sales really kick in.

As Lewandowski’s role has evolved, his busiest time is from the last part of the season and the early part of the off-season. That’s when much of the planning, budgeting and marketing for the next baseball season happens.

After a slowdown during the holidays, it ramps back up again after the first of the year. Sales and promotional efforts are pointed toward the opening of the season in early April.

When the season arrives, Lewandowski and his staff go into execution mode — taking care of the myriad details that crop up everyday.

“Execution has always been a strong point for us,” says Lewandowski.

The details of playing baseball were instilled in Lewandowski by his Dwenger coach — Lance Hershberger.

“He took it seriously,” says Lewandowski of Hershberger, who just launched a community college baseball program at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. “He took over a Dwenger program that was not very good and we ended up being very good.

“My sophomore and junior years (1986 and 1987) we had very good teams. We never got beyond regional, but it was always special back then to think about Bush Stadium and coming to Indianapolis.”

At Anderson, Lewandowski saved 23 games as a pitcher for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and 1,110-game winner Don Brandon.

“I consider him a living legend,” says Lewandowski. “I learned about life from Coach Brandon and how to be a man. It’s those formative years when you’re in college.

“He’s a wonderful man. He’s caring, loves everybody. But he’s as competitive as all heck. That’s why he was able to win so many games. He was a competitor.”

One thing that’s carried over from his AU years into his current position is fighting back against the weather.

“If it’s on the schedule, you try to play the game” was a belief for Brandon.

“That’s something we do here,” says Lewandowski. “If we’ve got it on the schedule, we’re going to try to play the game. We don’t want to postpone a game just to postpone a game.”

Lewandowski looks back on one especially frigid Saturday doubleheader at Anderson.

“It’s Midwest baseball in March,” says Lewandowski. “We were chipping ice off the tarp.”

Brandon was not interested in backing up the schedule if he could get the games in on what came to be known as Don Brandon Field.

One of Brandon’s former players — Mathew Bair — was named as new AU head coach at the end of the 2017 season.

“We’re excited to see Raven baseball turn back around,” says Lewandowski.

After years with the Cincinnati Reds and a few with the Milwaukee Brewers, Indianapolis has been affiliated with the Pirates since 2006 and the current four-year player development contract goes from 2020.

“We’ve had a very good relationship,” says Lewandowski. “(The Pirates) communicate well. They’ve had some really good young talent come through here, especially as the Frank Coonelly/Neal Huntington regime got into place (as president and executive vice president and GM) in Pittsburgh.

“It’s been a good thing for us.”

And the baseball fans of Indiana have gone along for the ride.

RANDYLEWANDOWSKI

Randy Lewandowski is in his 24th year with the Indianapolis Indians and third as general manager. In 2016, he was also named president of the club’s board of directors and the International League Executive of the Year. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)

 

Schellinger saluted as baseball umpire of the year

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bob Schellinger got to call balls and strikes at the IHSAA State Finals.

After 45 years as a high school baseball umpire in Indiana and making his fourth appearance at the championships — circling the bases — Schellinger was the plate umpire for the Class 3A game Saturday, June 17 at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

The weekend also saw the LaPorte resident recognized with the 2017 Interscholastic Athletic Official Association Award for excellence in baseball.

Why do it for this long?

“I love the game,” says Schellinger. “I started playing Little League baseball when I was 6 years old.

“I coached baseball for 27 years. This is a way to stay in baseball.”

Schellinger, a St. Joseph Valley Officials Association board member, began umpiring in Babe Ruth League games and got his first high school license at age 18 in 1972. He worked many high school summer games while coaching in the spring at South Central (Union Mills) and LaPorte. He was head baseball coach for the Satellites for 16 years and became a Slicers assistant under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber in 1995.

There is not secret formula for being a good umpire.

“You’ve got to work at it,” says Schellinger, who has officiated 15 sectionals, 12 regionals, four semistates as well as his State Finals appearances. “You’ve got to verse yourself in the rule book and the umpire’s manual. You’ve got to verse yourself in the case book over and over and over again. You’ve got to go to meetings. You’ve got to watch other officials.

“I picked up a lot of stuff when I was younger watching other officials.”

Even when umpires are in the stands, they tend to look at the game differently.

“If there’s a ball hit down the line, you’re not watching the ball, you’re looking to see (which umpire) is covering third base,” says Schellinger. “You get into that mode. That’s good because you see things. I’ve been licensed all these years and worked all these games and I still learn when I see things.”

Schellinger sees baseball umpiring as an ever-evolving profession.

“We have new techniques and new things we’re supposed to do,” says Schellinger. “We have to change with the times.”

Umpires typically work in two-man crews during the regular season with three-man crews at sectional title and four-man at the regional, semistate and state levels. With that comes different mechanics.

“Rotations are so much different because of where your second base umpire is,” says Schellinger. “I could talk about it for hours. It’s new to us, too, and we’ve got to get used to it.”

Schellinger, who is married to Lorri and has five children (Tricia, Rob, Mark, Kevin and Danny), teaches health and physical education at LaPorte High School. He retired as head football coach after leading the Slicers to a Class 5A state runner-up finish in his 22nd and last season in 2014.

BOBSCHELLINGER

Bob Schellinger was recognized as the 2017 Interscholastic Athletic Official Association Award for excellence in baseball. A licensed official since 1972, he worked behind the plate for his first IHSAA State Finals for the Class 3A game — South Bend St. Joseph over Jasper — on Saturday, June 17. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Scientific training from Marks helps give state finalist hitters an edge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Better offense through science.

Following the scientific methods prescribed by Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., has helped players going after high school state titles in Indiana.

Penn (Class 4A) and South Bend St. Joseph (3A) both go after IHSAA state crowns Saturday, June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

The Kingsmen (27-6) take on Indianapolis Cathedral (28-0) for the 4A title around 5 p.m. after the Indians (24-4) meet Jasper (30-4) for the 3A championship at approximately 2 p.m.

Among Marks’ weekly pupils are Penn seniors Nolan Metcalf (Kansas University commit), Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame) and Trevor Waite (Dayton) and junior Payton Kerr and St. Joe seniors Tony Carmola and Tyler Kleva (Trine).

“I use analytics and metrics to help them reach their potential,” says Marks. “I’m not the traditional baseball trainer.

“All you have to do is give good athletes information. All I do is use science to prove it to them and then they understand it.”

Marks gets hitters to be able to analyze their own swings.

“I want to know what they did wrong, so they can make an adjustment,” says Marks. “It’s more of a college/pro tech approach. We want a kid to be low maintenance at the next level.”

Marks, who started coaching his own Kalamazoo, Mich., area travel team in 2002-03 and worked at Around The Horn baseball school in Kalamazoo 2004-07 before starting his own place in Sturgis in 2008, talks about the kinetic chain of energy, building the swing from he bottom up.

Metcalf, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district player of the year for 2017, has been going to Marks since age 12 with Kavadas, Waite, Carmola and Kleva plus Mishawaka Marian senior Riley Tirotta (Dayton), South Bend Clay senior Trenton Stoner (Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne) also being longtime students. Kerr and South Bend Adams senior Spencer Nelson are newer clients.

Using video analysis and HitTrax technology, Marks talks with these players are many others (he has a long wait list because of demand) about things like launch angle and exit velocity.

Unlike the traditional approach, Marks encourages his hitters to drive the baseball in the air.

“We do not hit down on the ball like I was taught 20 years ago,” says Marks, who played at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich. “Line drives over the infielders’ heads leads to extra-base hits. I’d rather see a deep ball to center field than a grounder to shortstop.”

It’s an exciting moment when hitters can inform Marks they had 0 percent ground balls on 100 swings.

The Hitters Edge facility Wall of Fame is filled with many current and former Major League Baseball hitters at the point of contact.

Marks encourages his hitters to find a match and then goes about breaking them down.

“There is a small reconstruction period with kids,” says Marks. “I break the kids down to nothing to teach them core movements that they need to know.

“I want to teach them technique first. Then they can put their own style to the swing.”

Hitters are encouraged to have quick hands and not get jammed at the plate.

Marks wants his hitters to build muscle memory and to become unpredictable at the plate by being able to use all fields and not just pull or hit to the opposite field.

“Then they don’t know how to pitch to you,” says Marks.

IHSAA State Finals players have been tough outs in 2017. Witness some of the Penn numbers.

Penn left-swinging lead-off man Waite is hitting .491 with six home runs, five triples, eight doubles and 40 runs batted in.

Righty Metcalf (.410, 4 HR, 7 2B, 36 RBI), lefty Kavadas (.370, 4 HR, 3 3B, 9 2B, 26 RBI) and righty Kerr (.377, 1 HR, 5 2B, 23 RBI) have also been potent.

Then there’s righty-swinging St. Joe boys Carmola (.446, 3 HR, 4 3B, 12 2B, 28 RBI) and Kleva (.360, 1 HR, 9 2B, 31 RBI).

MARKSWAITEMETCALFKAVADAS

Hitters Edge instructor Mike Marks meets up with three pupils (from left): Penn High School and Indiana Nitro travel baseball players Trevor Waite, Nolan Metcalf and Niko Kavadas. The three Kingsmen have helped their team into the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game.

 

American Legion Baseball in Indiana experiences more boom than doom

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In a state teaming with travel teams, Indiana is keeping American Legion Baseball alive.

“It’s getting better,” says Indiana American Legion Baseball chairman and longtime Rockport Post 254 manager Owen Wells of the 19-U program. “We were in a slump for awhile.”

A decade ago, Legion ball fielded around 65 teams. When the money started moving away from American Legion Baseball and toward travel ball, the number of teams was cut in two.

“It used to be that it seemed the parents thought the more they spent, the better their kids were going to be,” says Wells. “Now, it seems they’re seeing that maybe that’s not true.

“They see a lot better competition than they do in high school or travel ball … You have to go by the rules or you don’t play American Legion ball. It’s as simple as that. We protect our kids, coaches, the program.”

With almost a half century in American Legion Baseball, Wells is quick to sing it’s praises.

“We have a structured program,” says Wells. “We have an eight-team state tournament. The best of that goes to the national regional tournament. The winner of that goes on the Shelby, N.C. for the World Series.

“Once you win your state tournament, national picks up all your fees — your travel, meals, hotel rooms. You get on a travel team and you can go to 10 World Series and each one of them costs parents X amount of dollars.”

Wells is proud of the organization of American Legion Baseball in Indiana. At the end of each season, officials meet to discuss things that went right and things that need to be changed.

“We don’t let things linger on,” says Wells.

American Legion Baseball has a code of sportsmanship: “I will keep the rules; Keep faith with my teammates; keep my temper; Keep myself fit; Keep a stout heart in defeat; Keep my pride under in victory; Keep a sound soul; A clean mind; and and healthy body.”

The 2016 ALB World Series drew well over 100,000 for five days and the last two games were broadcast live by ESPN. This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 10-15. As is tradition, the ALB World Series winner will be the guest of Major League Baseball for the second game of its World Series.

Wells notes that ALB also provides full-coverage insurance and requires background checks for its coaches. There is also now a pitch count rule — similar to the one now used by the IHSAA.

Players are also eligible to apply for a statewide scholarship.

There are on boundaries or restrictions when recruiting travel ball players. By rule, all ALB teams have to draw their players from high schools that do not exceed a total of 5,000 enrollment. Rockport tends to get its players from South Spencer and a number of other small schools in southern Indiana and the Owensboro, Ky., area.

The first Indiana ALB state champion (Indianapolis) was crowned in 1926. Branford Post 140 reigned as the second kings of Indiana Legion ball in 1928.

Ever since, a state champion has emerged. The 2016 state winner (Rockport Post 254) advanced to the 90th ALB World Series.

There was some coming and going in between seasons. Notably, there is no Muncie Post 19 Chiefs or Plymouth Post 27 Diamond Spyders squads this summer. Both are past state champions.

South Bend Post 50 was Indiana’s only American Legion World Series champion in 1977 and 40-year anniversary festivities are planned in July. But there will be no Post 50 unit on the field this season.

But there are new teams, including Region Legion Expos squads in northwest Indiana. Legion baseball is filling the gap left by the elimination of Little League’s Big League division (18-and-under) in Indiana.

The 2017 slated opened with 44 approved registrants (30 senior, 14 junior).

According to state commander Joe Kusiak, senior teams i(19-and-under) include Attica Post 52, Boonville Post 200, Brazil Clay County Post 2, Bristol Post 143, Cicero Post 341, Clinton Post 140, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Evansville Eugene Pate Post 265, Greene County Eagles, Highland Post 180, Jasper Post 147, Kokomo Post 6, Lafayette Post 11, Lake Village Post 375 Spartans, Liberty Post 122 Patriots, Madison Post 9, Mike Miller Post 94/37, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Princeton Post 25, Region Legion Expos 1, Region Legion Exposure Expos, Region Legion Expos 3, Rockport Post 254, Rockville Post 48, Seymour Post 89, South Bend Post 357, Sullivan Post 139, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94.

Junior clubs (age 17-and-under) are Boonville Post 200 Juniors, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Greene County Eagles, Jasonville Post 172, Kokomo Post 6, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Michigan City Post 37 Wolves, Region Legion Expos 4, Richmond Post 65, Rockport Post 254, Rockport Post 254 Cubs, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94 Junior Vikings.

There will be no sectionals, but eight regionals leading to the eight-team state tournament in Terre Haute July 21-25 (Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo will serve as host sites). The state tournament rotates north and south above and below I-70. The 2016 event was staged in Kokomo.

Tim Hayes is in his second season of leading Terre Haute Post 346 after taking over for his brother John. In 31 seasons, John Hayes amassed a record of 930-390 with 28 sectionals, 12 regionals, seven state championships, one Great Lakes Regional title and three regional runner-up finishes. The 2006 team placed second at the ALB World Series.

The local aspect of Legion ball is attractive to Tim Hayes.

“You can still have competitive teams that are community-based in my opinion,” says Hayes, who draws his 2017 roster from Terre Haute North, Terre Haute South, West Vigo and Marshall, Ill. (one player) and plans to play 35-40 games with trips to Missouri and Tennessee. “There are still kids and parents out there that are believers. We’ve been fortunate here that we’ve been able to keep the largest percent of our A and B level players (Post 346 alums include big leaguers like Josh Phegley and A.J. Reed). Our program is rich in tradition. (Players) want to represent our community and our veterans. How long it will last is hard to say.”

A 501 (c) 3 organization raises money for the Post 346 program.

Dave Shinn is in his second year as manager of Mike Miller Post 34-97, a Michigan City-based team. His father, Al Shinn, was involved with ALB, Michiana Amateur Baseball League and Connie Mack Baseball League teams for decades and had played and managed in the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers organizations. Al Shinn died in 2016.

The younger Shinn expects his team to play about 25 regular-season games (with no overnight trips) plus the postseason. He likes the quality of baseball and the pace.

“Once I got into it, I really enjoyed the competition,” says Dave Shinn. “Five or six games in a weekend is too much baseball. You can’t learn that much when you’re playing that much.”

Post 34/97 draws its players from Michigan City, Marquette Catholic, LaPorte, Chesterton, Westville and South Central (Union Mills), plays home games at Marquette with about a dozen players active for each contest.

“We try to keep all the kids active,” says Shinn.

To raise money for Valparaiso Post 94, general manager Kusiak has sold commemorative Chicago Cubs World Series bats made by Valpo-based Hoosier Bat Co.

Bristol Post 143 manager Jim Treadway has brought his team back to Elkhart Central for home games after moving around Elkhart County for home fields. Like many Indiana ALB teams, Bristol has produced many players who went on to play college or pro baseball. Ryan Strausborger made his MLB debut in 2015.

OWENWELLSAMLEGION

Owen Wells is a longtime manager of Rockpost American Legion Post 254’s baseball team and is the Indiana baseball chairman. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

No steady home field, no problem for Freije, Indianapolis Cathedral

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Some might see the IHSAA Class 4A baseball state championship showdown against Penn (27-6) as a home game for Indianapolis Cathedral (28-0).

After all, it’s only 12 or so miles from the Cathedral campus on 56th Street to the downtown stadium and the Irish did beat Heritage Christian for the city championship at “The Vic” this spring.

On the other hand, Cathedral is the designated road team against the Kingsmen in a game slated for 5 p.m. Saturday, June 17, and that may make sense to some since the Fighting Irish did not have one “home” field during the 2017 season.

Irish varsity games had been played for years at Hair Field near Fort Benjamin Harrison, but when the lease to that facility was not renewed the Irish went looking for places to play.

“We had a month or two not knowing what we were going to do,” says Cathedral head baseball coach Ed Freije.

The independent Irish wound up with home contests at Marian University on the northwest side of Indianapolis and Grand Park in Westfield.

Meanwhile, the school purchased the former Little League International Central Region headquarters at 44th and Mitthoeffer and used that for practices and all junior varsity and freshmen games while construction began on a high school diamond and other athletic fields at what is now called Brunette Park.

But a nomadic season with a new coaching staff did not stop Cathedral from winning each and every time it took the diamond — wherever it was.

The 2017 Irish will be vying to be the fourth unbeaten team during the IHSAA state tournament era (1967-2017), joining Evansville Memorial (30-0 in single class in 1978), Brownsburg (35-0 in 4A in 2005) and Norwell (35-0 in 3A in 2007).

Cathedral’s record was spotless going into the 2013 4A championship game before falling 1-0 to left-hander Tanner Tully and Elkhart Central. The ’13 Irish wound up 28-1.

Freije, a 1999 Cathedral graduate and three-sport athlete for the Irish, returned to the baseball coaching staff after a hiatus when he spent five seasons as the school’s head girls basketball coach (winning 70 games from 2012-13 to 2016-17).

The ’17 Irish returned nine seniors from 2016 and plenty of capable arms.

“Depth of pitching has really helped us this year,” says Freije. “(Pitching coach) Brad Pearson did a a phenomenal job with that staff. We knew that pitching and defense would keep us in games and give us a chance day in and day out.

“(Pitchers have) been around the strike zone and let their defense work. That strong defense behind them gives them a ton of confidence. We like our chances if we’re not giving up more than two or three runs.”

Opponents have scored more than three runs in only three games out of 28 with 15 times have tallied one or no runs.

Senior left-hander Nick Eaton has emerged as Cathedral’s ace. He took the ball in the sectional final, regional semifinal and semistate game and is expected to start against Penn.

Senior right-hander Tommy Kafka, Cathedral’s starting second baseman, has been used effectively in relief.

The Irish also have starting right fielder and senior right-hander Jack Myers, senior right-hander Jack Phillips and starting first baseman and junior left-hander Jake Andriole at the ready for mound duty.

Freije said he did not see the new IHSAA pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) dictating how Cathedral handled its pitchers this season, though it did come into a play with a few opponents.

Besides Pearson (cousin of Cardinal Ritter head coach Dave Scott), Jeremy Sinsabaugh (varsity), Austin Green (JV), Will Hunker (JV) and Keith Yost (freshmen) are also part of the 2017 Cathedral coaching staff.

The Irish are making a seventh State Finals appearance (Cathedral won state championships in 2001 and 2007 and finished as state runner-up in 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2013) after beating Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Lawrence Central and Lawrence North to win the Warren Central Sectional, Greenfield-Central and Roncalli in the Decatur Central Regional and Columbus North in the Plainfield Semistate.

Ed Freije is not the first Indianapolis area coach with that name. His father — also named Ed — is a former baseball and basketball coach at Broad Ripple and basketball coach at New Palestine.

The younger Freije learned about coaching from his father and from Ken Kaufman, Rich Andriole, Tony Vittorio and Linda Bamrick among others.

Freije played baseball at Cathedral for Kaufman and then Andriole (then served as an assistant on his staff for a decade, 2004-13). As a head coach, Andriole won more than 500 games and the two state titles.

Vittorio was Freije’s baseball coach at the University of Dayton, where Freije graduated in 2003.

A Southport High School graduate, Vittorio played at Hanover College and later coached at then NCAA Division II Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne before taking over the D-I Dayton Flyers.

Before taking over as Lady Irish head coach, Freije was an assistant to Linda Bamrick. She won 186 games with a state championship (2000-01) in 12 seasons at Cathedral.

The Irish, which have also gathered 21 sectional, 13 regional and six semistate crowns, has sent many players on to college and professional baseball. Catcher Jake Fox made his Major League Baseball debut in 2007 and right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter followed in 2008. Left-hander Dillon Peters was drafted in 2014 and right-hander Ashe Russell in 2015.

EDFREJE

Indianapolis Cathedral baseball coaches for 2017 (left to right): Keith Yost, Austin Green, Jeremy Sinsabaugh, head coach Ed Freije, Brad Pearson and Will Hunker. (Cathedral Photo)

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