Category Archives: College

Kloosterman shares his passion for baseball with IHSBCA All-Stars

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greg Kloosterman shared a story of perseverance and belief Friday, July 20 at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet.

The former standout at Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College who was a left-handed pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization is now a husband and father of two who works in the gas and oil business and coaches youth baseball in Pennsylvania.

Kloosterman took the audience of about 250 at the Century Center in downtown South Bend through his baseball journey. Many of his remarks were aimed directly at the all-stars — recently-graduated players from across the state who were chosen to play three games (two Saturday and one Sunday) at Four Winds Field.

With wife Megan and sons Grady and Blake in the audience, Kloosterman described what he labeled the four stages of baseball.

It was during Stage 1 that he started to develop his belief in himself.

“In Stage 1, you’re 6 years old, chewing on dandelions, doing cartwheels in the outfield,” said Kloosterman. “I was that kid.”

Though his coach criticized him for his ways, he used to to fuel him.

“I truly, honestly, passionately don’t care what you think about me,” said Kloosterman. “You’re opinion means absolutely nothing. You have no idea what I’m capable of doing.

“I can’t tell you how vital this has been.”

Then emphasized a few points to the all-stars.

“Trust me, gentlemen, there’s going to be a college coach that looks at you and says ‘no.’ Should you quit?,” said Kloosterman. “There’s going to be a D-I coach that looks at you and says you’re not fast enough. Should you quit?

“That tool came in handy not just in T-ball but in pro ball.”

In the second stage, a drive and hunger was developed.

“Do you remember the first time you wanted to beat the living tar out of your opponent?,” said Kloosterman. “The world stopped. You stopped hearing all the crazy parents yell at you, coaches (acting) like they’re trying out for the big leagues and didn’t even notice your friends on the other team.

“It was an uncontrollable, insatiable desire to put a quick foot on their throat and win by 10 in five. I was 12. I became addicted to winning.”

Kloosterman admits that when he didn’t win as a 12-year-old, he completely melted down.

“I cried after every loss until I was 13,” said Kloosterman. “I was icorrigible. I’m glad I got over that because that could have gotten really weird in high school and college.”

Kloosterman credits this drive as a the single most important thing that allowed him to play as long as he did and brought him success in his career.

“Losing stinks,” said Kloosterman. “There’s no justification for it. We can learn from it.

“But make no mistake, winning’s great. Winning’s the reason we train the way we do. It’s why we stay late and don’t go to parties.

“We have laser focus. We don’t do it so we can lose. We do it so we can win.”

Stage 3 is when Kloosterman tasted success, but also learned that there were other talented ballplayers in his world. He saw the nasty stuff of second-round Major League Baseball draftee Eric Good, gave up a home run and was picked off first base in the same game by major league catcher-to-be Rob Bowen and got hit regularly by future major leaguer Hunter Pence.

“I hold that pretty close to my heart because I always wanted to strive to be better,” said Kloosterman. “Look to those people who were that good and so special and fight to be like that. Go beat them. If you can’t do it now, do it tomorrow.”

It’s still a driving factor in his life and he related it to the all-stars in the audience.

“It motivates me to work even harder. Someone, somewhere is better than you,” said Kloosterman. “They throw harder, run faster and hit the ball harder. And, to be honest, they’re probably a freshman.

“Never forget what got you here and you use these times to make you stronger.”

Kloosterman, 36, is now in the fourth stage. He coaches baseball, but he no longer plays it. But he can look back fondly on the people and moments that helped get him to this point.

“I reaped all the benefits while playing this game,” said Kloosterman. “Now, I’m reaping the benefits post-baseball.”

He thanked his family at the beginning of his speech. At the end, he singled out Elkhart Central coach Steve Stutsman and wife Kristie and Central assistant, Concord head coach, Bristol American Legion Post 143 manager and North/South All-Star Series organizer Jim Treadway and his wife Mary Jane for their impact on his life.

“I always call him Coach because he earned it,” said Kloosterman of Steve Stutsman, who is also head coach for the North in this year’s North/South All-Star Series. “He allowed me to play on his team at Elkhart Central from 1997-2000.

“What he might not tell you that he basically allowed me to live with him my whole career because I didn’t have the best home life.

“Coach, you loved me and I can’t thank you enough for that. You gave me a place to play baseball and forget how bad things were outside the white lines.”

Jim Treadway introduced Kloosterman and said, “You never know where this road is going to take you guys. But continue to work hard and believe in yourselves when nobody else does.”

Kloosterman expressed his appreciation for Treadway, who he met as a Central freshman and has been close with ever since.

“He was somebody that has the guts to grab a 13-year-old kid and talk some sense into him,” said Kloosterman. “He loved me when I wasn’t good, loved me when I was good and gave me the encouragement to be better than where I came from.

“Jim Treadway, without you I would have failed. I want to thank you for guiding me, discipling me and giving me everything and — above all — love. You will always be a dad to me.”

Kloosterman wrapped up his remarks by encouraging all-stars to thank the people in their lives, especially parents, coaches and trainers and then told them that it’s them that will help grow the game in the future.

“They don’t get thanked enough,” said Kloosterman. “As weird as this may sound to you right now, giving back to the game of baseball is way better than whatever you get from this game

“Take the time to teach you kids the game. Teach them what you know. Remind them how much fun this game is.”

Kloosterman presented himself as evidence that baseball can provide so much — an education, a job, relationship and a family.

“Let a kid hit a bomb off you,” said Kloosterman. “Let a kid strike you out.

“Build this next generation of baseball players better than you.”

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Jim and Mary Jane Treadway (left) share a moment with Megan and Greg Kloosterman Friday, July 20 at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet at Century Center in downtown South Bend. Greg Kloosterman was the keynote speaker. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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New Saint Francis Cougars head baseball coach Butcher committed to making history

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dustin Butcher wants baseball success for his alma mater.

The new head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., is committed to making the Cougars into a perennial championship contender — something already achieved by the school’s football and basketball programs.

“To do something special, you have to commit to it,” says Butcher, who takes over the program after the retirement of Greg Roberts. “We’re going to make history here at some point.

“I’m excited. I have a lot of pride in this university.”

Saint Francis is a member of the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League (along with Bethel College, Goshen College, Grace College, Huntington University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Marian University, Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, Spring Arbor University and Taylor University). The Cougars are seeking their first regular-season or tournament title in baseball.

USF head football coach Kevin Donley is the winningest coach in NAIA history. Men’s basketball Chad LaCross has won over 70 percent of his games with two national runner-up teams. Coach Jason Ridge now leads a women’s basketball program that won a national title in 2014.

Butcher graduated from Heritage High School in Monroeville, Ind., and played baseball and soccer at Saint Francis, completing his undergraduate degree in 2001. He went on to earn a masters in sports and exercise psychology from Ball State University.

During his internship with USF’s soccer teams — men and women — Butcher got a chance to built the mental skill set of athletes.

Butcher played baseball for coach Dean Lehrman at Heritage. His USF coaches were Steve Kovacs and Doug Coate in baseball and Ken Nuber then Mitch Ellisen in soccer.

“I’m thankful,” says Butcher. “Coach Lehrman kind of saved me from myself. He was very honest. I wasn’t on the best path. I wasn’t living up to expectations.”

Butcher says he contributed to Cougars soccer for his willingness to be a grinder.

“I was good in high school, but at the collegiate level I wasn’t good enough,” says Butcher. “But I think I made everybody around me better because I would never stop.

“It made me realize that you need guys like that. I pushed guys in practice. They knew you couldn’t take a day off.”

Butcher’s first assistant college baseball coaching stop came at Marian in Indianapolis on the staff of Kurt Guldner and assistants Kip McWilliams and Toby Rogers.

Jessica Butcher, Dustin’s wife, is a family doctor with Lutheran Health Physicians. She did her residency in Fort Wayne and Dustin coached a season at Saint Francis and then went with head coach McWilliams at Indiana Tech. Butcher returned to Saint Francis to join Roberts in the fall of 2008 and remained until the present.

“I’m appreciative of Coach Guldner giving me my first job,” says Butcher. “Coach Mac is really the one that got me going to the (annual American Baseball Coaches Association national convention). If you love baseball and you’ve never been to an ABCA convention, you need to go. It’s mind-blowing.

“It’s such a cool culture of coaches. It’s a group of guys constantly trying to learn and share information. I love it.”

Butcher is grateful for Roberts, who allowed him to find his own way of implementing his philosophy.

“He allowed us to coach,” says Butcher, who also served alongside Miguel Tucker (who is now on McWilliams’ staff at Indiana Tech). “He gave us full autonomy. He allowed us to fail and succeed on his watch. He was just so good at teaching. He always had an angle that would make you think.

“I owe him a lot.”

As head coach, Butcher will emphasize the grinder mentality

“I want to challenge them to where they hit a wall physically and they have to figure out how to get to the other side,” says Butcher. “You’ve got to find something within yourself.”

To narrow the gap on the competition, Butcher expects his athletes to move some iron.

“I’m a big believer in the weight room — it allows you to compete at a higher level quicker.

“To win at the NAIA level, you see a lot of teams across the country in the World Series or Top 25 with transfers (Division I or junior college). We don’t have the luxury of being able to pluck any JC kid or get every Division I bounce-back. We don’t have the financial capability. To be able to compete, we’ve got to push in the weight room.

“To make history, we need to do more — we need to develop more, we need to take more swings outside of practice time. That’s something I’m going to ask our coaches to do.”

Former Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne player Kristian Gayday has been hired as a USF baseball assistant and a search is one for a second assistant. Gayday, who played for Mastodons and head coach Bobby Pierce, will lead Cougars hitters and help with infielders and outfielders.

Butcher is especially fond of the methods favored by strength and conditioning specialist Eric Cressey. Because they seem to be more in-line with baseball, the coach says his Cougars will front squat and deadlift.

Recruiting at Saint Francis focuses on a 50-mile radius around the school. Anyone from inside that ring can commute. By school policy, those outside that radius must live on campus and that adds to the cost.

The 2019 online roster includes 15 players from Allen or surrounding Indiana counties.

Using resources like FieldLevel and getting athletes to on-campus to experience the atmosphere of home football games, Butcher is wrapping up the 2018-19 recruiting class while also looking for 2019-20 commits.

Travel organizations that have been good to Saint Francis are the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks, Summit City Sluggers and Indiana Chargers.

“Those are three top programs,” says Butcher. “You want to make sure you see them in the summer because they always have kids to recruit.”

He expects his roster to hover between 30 and 40 players, which will take practices and a few scrimmages in the fall and a 55-game schedule in the spring. Some winter workouts will take place at The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy. All home games will be played on the turf at the ASH Centre in Fort Wayne.

Dustin, the oldest of six children, is the son of Becki Beauchot and Steve Butcher. Dustin’s sisters are Abbi, Emily and Daisy with Sam and Jack (a senior-to-be at Heritage).

Living in Leo, Ind., Dustin and Jessica Butcher have two children — Nolan (9) and Ella (7). Ella was in Miguel Tucker’s wedding. Jessica has been the baby doctor for former USF players.

“That’s why you do it,” says Butcher of the bonds formed through baseball. “It’s a family. That’s hard to get through to coaches.

“I hope they understand it.”

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Alum and long-time assistant coach Dustin Butcher is now the head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Ready emphasizes academics, development as UIndy head baseball coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Al Ready has been part of University of Indianapolis baseball for a long time.

Ready played for the Greyhounds in 2000 and 2001 and after two-year playing stint in professional baseball with the London (Ont.) Werewolves and Evansville (Ind.) Otters and and two years as head coach at Sauk Valley Community College, he joined the coaching staff of veteran UIndy coach Gary Vaught.

When Vaught retired at the end of the 2018 season (he was 808-533-2 in 24 seasons at UIndy and 975-666-2 in 29 campaigns overall), Ready was elevated from associate head coach to Greyhounds head coach.

“If Coach Vaught had wanted to continue to coach, I would have stood by him every step of the way,” says Ready, who turns 41 on Aug. 5. “He’s just a phenomenal person. He treated me like his own son over the years. He’s done a lot for me and my family. I’m going to miss him.”

Ready launches into his new duties with a coaching staff featuring pitching coach Landon Hutchison plus Trevor Forde, Scott Lawley and graduate assistants Storm Joop and Adam Vasil. All but Hutchison are former UIndy players.

The Greyhounds were 31-23 overall and 10-14 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in 2018.

Looking far and wide, Ready and his staff are currently recruiting a few players to fill out the 2018-19 signing class while also working on 2019-20.

“I look for very strong academic student-athletes,” says Ready. “You can really stretch your dollars our if you are recruiting student-athletes who are able to receive both academic and athletic aid.”

At UIndy, academics is No. 1.

“I hope all of our players make it to the big leagues and make a million dollars,” says Ready. “But their overall quality of life is going to be determined by their degree and not by their baseball career.

“You’re coming in here to get a degree from the University of Indianapolis. You’re not coming here because we are giving you an opportunity to play baseball.

“If we don’t have the degree you’re looking for, I’ll tell them not to come here.”

UIndy offers the full amount of athletic scholarships allowed for NCAA Division II baseball — nine (Division I is 11.7). UIndy is one of four D-II programs in Indiana. University of Southern Indiana, Purdue University Northwest and Oakland City University are the others.

Ready says the Greyhounds typically dress about 35 at home and 28 on the road.

“The full-ride in baseball is kind of non-existent if you’re just talking in terms of just athletic dollars,” says Ready, who notes that players that can meet the stacking criteria of the NCAA coming out of high school can accumulate quite a bit of academic, athletic and aid money.

Pitchers are a priority on UIndy’s wish list.

“You’re only as good as the guy you roll out there on the mound,” says Ready. “We like arms. We’re only as good as the guy we’re going to be pitching that particular day.”

Offensive players are improved through training.

“We do a really, really good job of developing our offense,” says Ready. “Development, especially at the Division II level, is vital to your survival.

“You don’t necessarily get the kind of kids it takes to win a national championship at the Division II level right out of high school.”

The Greyhounds roster is typically a mix.

“How do we get them?,” says Ready. “Either right out of high school, bounce-backs from Division I schools or transfers from junior colleges.”

NCAA Division II allows a 45-day window in the fall for team practices. The limit is 15 hours per week.

“Our practices in the fall are really systematic,” says Ready. “We teach them our bunt coverages, first-and-third plays, pick-off plays, double cuts and things like that.

Outside of that 45-day window, D-II teams get two hours a week of skill development with individual and small-group workouts.

“That’s the stage were guys will really start to get better,” says Ready, whose athletes play games at Greyhound Park and train in the 95,000-square foot Athletics & Recreation Center (The ARC was the NFC practice site for the 2012 Super Bowl) as well as have access to the turf of Key Stadium (football).

With the help of Will Carroll, UIndy is part of a study by Motus Baseball to track the biomechanics of baseball players.

“I really like the Motus technology,” says Ready. “It provides certain metrics that you just can’t see when you’re just watching a kid pitch. You can keep track of the number of pitches a kid throws. But it’s almost impossible to keep track of the number of throws that the kid makes over a certain period of time whether that’s a day, a week or whatever.

“Motus has allowed us to get a good grasp on how much throwing each player is actually doing. The first six weeks of throwing kind of establishes the baseline for each player. It’s really nice to have.”

The sensors can track workload and the amount of stress on the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL).

“Of course, Tommy John surgery is considered an epidemic in baseball,” says Ready. “Those are important numbers to know when you’re trying to figure out how to train each kid.”

Ready notes that training over the years has really shifted toward customization.

“When I got started in the early 2000’s, it was more of a ‘cookie-cutter’ type of approach,” says Ready. “We were teaching each player the same thing. But what’s right for this player may not necessarily be right for the guy beside him.”

Last season, the technology helped diagnose an issue with a UIndy starting pitcher.

While not decreasing in velocity after a few innings, Motus data indicated that the player was dropping his arm slot and losing some control. The pitcher was switched to a relief role and he excelled.

Knowing the numbers can determine training methods.

“A weighted ball will work to increase velocity but it also increases the risk of getting hurt,” says Ready. “Wouldn’t you like to know which of your guys have more stress on their UCL when they throw? Those are the guys who probably shouldn’t be working with weighted balls — at least as much as some of the other guys.”

On the offensive side of things, Ready likes to use Motus sensors when a hitter is going really well.

“You want to know what the swing length, attack angle, hand speed, and rotational speed is,” says Ready. “When the player’s scuffling a little bit, you can put the sensor back on him and see if there’s any difference.”

Ready, a London, Ont., native, attended Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School and learned much about the diamond at the National Baseball Institute of Canada in Vancouver, B.C. After a few years there, he played two seasons at Sauk Valley in Dixon, Ill., then transferred to UIndy.

The switch-hitting catcher batted .352 with 18 home runs and 74 runs batted in as he earned Second-Team All-American honors and UIndy (43-23) placed third in the 2000 NCAA Division II World Series.

In 2001, Ready was a Verizon First-Team Academic All-American while helping the Greyhounds to a school-record 51 wins and fourth straight NCAA D-II regional berth. He still holds the school records for most walks in a career (109) and a season (55 in 2000).

Ready graduated from UIndy in 2001 with a 3.44 cumulative grade-point average in Computer Information Systems. He posted a 3.74 GPA while earning his Masters of Business Administration from the school in 2008.

Al and Sarah Ready were married in 2003 and have four children — sons Jacob (10) and Camden (8) and twin daughters Alaina and Evelyn (who turn 3 in December). Sarah Ready is a former Sauk Valley multi-sport athlete who got her undergraduate degree in psychology and masters in counseling at Indianapolis in 2001 and 2003. She is now a guidance counselor at Franklin Township Middle School-East.

“To make it all work, you have to have great wife who supports what you do,” says Ready. “To be a college coach, you have to have people in your corner backing you up and helping you out. There’s no question about it.”

Al and younger sister Jennifer are the parents of Ken and Gayle Ready of Ontario.

One of the Ready’s managers at Evansville was Greg Jelks, who played in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies and also played and coached in Australia. Two Aussies — Daniel Lee and Greg Johnston — have worn the Greyhounds uniform since Ready has been on the UIndy campus.

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Al Ready is now head baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis. The former Greyhounds player had spent several seasons as associate head coach to Gary Vaught, who retired at the end of the 2018 season. (UIndy Photo)

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Gary Vaught (left) was head baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis for 24 seasons and won 808 games. His replacement is Al Ready (right). The former Greyhounds player was an assistant and then associate head coach for several seasons. (UIndy Photo)

 

New baseball coach Woodruff looks for Ancilla Chargers to adapt and improve

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Personal experience has taught Chris Woodruff the value of junior college for a student-athlete and now he’s leading a baseball program at a two-year school.

Woodruff, 25, was named head coach at Ancilla College near Donaldson, Ind., in June and has been busy recruiting and working on the facility at the liberal arts institution of higher learning sponsored by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.

Woodruff, who has been running events for Elite Baseball Tournaments on the weekends, sees recruiting as a “fun challenge.”

With only a few months to fill a roster, recruiting has really amped up for him.

“Once we begin our fall ball season, we can begin recruiting our 2019 season,” says Woodruff. “We do have a lot of quality guys that return. I’m getting close to my goal. I want to get 30 guys this year and next year, I want to get up to 40.

“The more guys I can have on the roster, the more intrasquads we can do and the more team work we can do here on the field and see what we have in front of us rather having to depend on going somewhere to play a scrimmage.”

Woodruff says he hopes to tap into local talent on the playing side and has already done that for coaching.

Jesse Zepeda, an Elkhart Central High School graduate who played the outfield at Bethel College, has joined Woodruff’s Ancilla coaching staff.

“He already knows what I’m trying to bring here,” says Woodruff of Zepeda. “He’ll back my methods and my ways.”

Woodruff has a couple other people in mind to add other assistants.

A 2011 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) John Adams High School, Woodruff played two seasons (2012 and 2013) for coaches  Keith Schreiber and Mike Marks at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich. — a Michigan Community College Athletic Association member along with Ancilla — and two (2014 and 2015) for coach Brian Blondell at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Ind.

In high school, Woodruff played travel baseball his last two summers for Blondell’s Michiana Scrappers.

One of his teammates at Holy Cross was Jake Lanning, who was selected in the 24th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves and played in the minors that summer.

“I’ve seen and played with a lot of great guys,” says Woodruff.

Woodruff, who played football for coaches Frank Amato and Craig Redman and baseball for coach Adam Zache at Adams, hit .312 with two doubles, one triple, six runs batted in and 20 runs scored in his last season as a center fielder at Glen Oaks.

His final year at Holy Cross, the right fielder was selected first-team all-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference after hitting .331.

“I know what kind of junior college played for me — athletically and academically,” says Woodruff. “I can give players the opportunity to come here and play for two years at the college level. In two years, they can improve and develop and leave with their associate degree and go somewhere bigger and better.

“I’m looking for guys who want to come here and work day in and day out and if Ancilla is the right place for them, we can make it work baseball-wise as well.”

Ancilla offers 25 associate degrees and the professor-to-student ratio is low, making for more personal attention. The campus located next to Gilbert Lake and eight miles west of Plymouth.

Indiana has three junior college baseball programs — Ancilla, Vincennes University and Indiana Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne are the others.

Some players and families know how the junior college system works and others are being educated while also being told the merits of Ancilla.

“Each family is different,” says Woodruff. “I have to feed off of them and see where their mindset is.”

Woodruff began his coaching career as a football assistant to Redman at Adams while also finishing his degree in the fall/winter of 2015.

Woodruff then tried his hand at professional baseball in the 2016 California Winter League.

“It was a good experience,” says Woodruff. “All the coaches in that league were (independent pro baseball) coaches or ex-pros and I learned a lot picking their brains.”

In 2016-17, he was a football assistant to Redman at South Bend Clay and a volunteer baseball assistant to head coach Mike Huling at Indiana University South Bend then served as a volunteer on the staff of Seth Zartman at Bethel in Mishawaka, Ind., in 2017-18.

Huling was an hitting/outfield coach in Woodruff’s senior year at Holy Cross then brought him onto the IUSB staff.

“I was always a great outfielder and defender, but it was always just natural,” says Woodruff. “I never had anyone teach me. He was constantly getting us to improve on what we did yesterday.

“At IUSB, it was what were we doing as a team to get better that day. Each day, we’re going to improve a little bit.”

Woodruff always wants to get better as a coach and see his atheles make steady progress.

“As soon as you think you know it all, get out of baseball because it’s constantly improving and adapting,” says Woodruff. “There’s so much information out there. Try to just be a sponge.”

At Bethel, Woodruff saw the way Zartman and assistant Kiel Boynton went about their daily business.

“I try to take everything in and that’s what it’s been like this first two or three weeks at Ancilla,” says Woodruff. “I’m constantly learning.

“That’s the kind of team I want to have on the field year in and year out — one that wants to adapt and improve.”

Woodruff, who was hired to a part-time position at Ancilla by athletic director Brian Pearison, has been consulting with groundskeeping guru and longtime family friend Joel Reinebold about getting the Chargers’ playing facility in shape.

“He’s definitely someone I will lean on as I’m getting started and as I move forward,” says Woodruff of Reinebold.

John and Teri Woodruff both have coaching and athletic administration backgrounds but they never pressured their only child to participate in sports.

“They got it right the first time,” says Chris Woodruff. “They just wanted me to be doing something. They’ve definitely been great role models for me and they are the backbone of my support system.”

Growing up, Chris was always around for dad’s softball games in the spring and summer and helped his mother at football games (at Penn High School then Adams).

“I was always around athletics,” says Woodruff. “It’s something I’ve grown to love.”

Woodruff also appreciates all the community support.

There’s a whole village that helped me get to this point and I have been to thank,” says Woodruff. “I’m always adapting, improving, learning and growing.”

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Chris Woodruff, a South Bend John Adams High School graduate who played at Glen Oaks Community College and Holy Cross, is the new head baseball coach at Ancilla College near Donaldson, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

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New Ancilla College head baseball coach Chris Woodruff, 25, is working to fill his roster for 2018-19 while also improving the playing facility at the two-year school near Donaldson, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Mercer moves to Indiana; Hall speaks highly for their time together at Wright State

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer has been hired as the new head baseball coach at Indiana University after enjoying success at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Mercer’s 2017-18 WSU season included NCAA Division I baseball’s first-ever full-time mental skills coach in Diamyn Hall.

Hall, 24, is grateful for his chance to serve with Mercer.

“It was an incredible opportunity to work with him because I learned a lot of things about business and player development from our conversations throughout the course of the season,” says Hall. “He’s a mastermind when it comes to understanding how to bring on staff members with multiple strengths in specific areas.

“He provided me with the freedom to incorporate the mental game in many new and innovative ways throughout the course of the year. I appreciated it greatly because I like to incorporate the mental game in a unique fashion, different from most traditional ways.”

Mercer gave Hall responsibility and let him use his creativity.

“I’ll never forget his message to me when I came on staff in the fall: I’m going to give you the freedom to apply whatever you feel necessary. But, at the end of the day, I expect you to get it done in the best way possible,” says Hall. “I’m very excited for him, his wife and his newborn. He will be a great father because he embodies the definition of working hard, toughness and doing the right things in order to achieve success and dream goals.

“Anybody that knows his story and has gotten to know him understands that not only has he earned this, but he deserves it. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be one of the best head coaches in the country very soon. I’m extremely confident he will take Indiana University to an even higher level.”

Mercer, an Indiana native, spoke highly about Hall to IndianaRBI as the Raiders were making a push toward the Horizon League title and a berth in the NCAA Stanford Regional.

Looking at the numbers, Wright State improved in many categories from 2017 to 2018 with the addition of the focus on the mental game.

In batting, the 2017 Raiders (38-21 overall, 23-5 in the Horizon League) hit .260 as a team with 519 hits, 37 home runs, 26 triples, 106 doubles, 339 runs scored,  228 walks, 431 strikeouts, a .349 on-base percentage and went 130-of-161 in stolen base attempts. In pitching, WSU had a staff earned run average of 3.70 with 16 saves, 423 strikeouts and 192 walks.

Compare the 2018 offensive stats and Wright State (39-18, 22-6) was better in batting average (.294), hits (574), home runs (42), doubles (120), runs scored (435), walks (268), strikeouts (325), on-base percentage (.394). While the Raiders stole fewer bases, they had a higher success rate at 110-of-128 (85.9 percent) than 2017 (80.7 percent).

Crediting the mental game, Horizon League Player of the Year Gabe Snyder went from hitting .289 with 13 home runs, 17 doubles, 49 runs batted in and .570 slugging percentage in 2017 to .359 with 15 homers, 20 doubles, 73 RBIs and slugged .668 in 2018 — his fourth season at Wright State. The 6-foot-5 lefty-swinging first baseman was selected in the 21st round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

What will Hall do moving forward now that Mercer is gone to IU?

“I will go back to my individual improvement process and re-evaluate last year and find the areas that need to be improved on with the mental game for the 2018-19 season. In order for our players to continue developing their mental game, I must hold myself accountable for continuing to improve and develop my coaching strategies, teachings and processes.

“I learned a lot this past year and I’m very excited to get back to work.”

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Wright State University head coach Jeff Mercer (left) brought in Diamyn Hall (right) as NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach in 2017-18. Mercer recently took the head coaching post at Indiana University. (Wright State University Photo)

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Jeff Mercer is introduced as the new head baseball coach at Indiana University. He came from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. (Indiana University Photo)

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Diamyn Hall, the full-time mental skills coach for Wright State University baseball, shares his knowledge with a Raiders player in 2017-18. Hall is working now to improve on his methods and teachings for 2018-19. (Wright State University Photo)

RoundTripper, Indiana Mustangs founder Estep emphasizes work ethic, grades, playing with fire not anger

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Providing instruction and tools for players to get better and helping them get to the next level.

Chris Estep has been doing that for more than two decades. He founded RoundTripper Sports Academy in 1993 in Hamilton County, Ind. In 2001, RoundTripper and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization has been housed in a 40,000-square feet facility in Westfield.

Estep, an Indianapolis native, was an All-American at the University of Kentucky and was selected in the 12th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He began has career as an instructor and coach after retiring from minor league baseball in 1992.

When he’s not traveling with a team, Estep is at RoundTripper giving up to 12 lessons a day or conducting classes with players with ties to many different organizations.

“When I’m here, it’s contact teaching,” says Estep. “On the road, it’s constantly marketing the players and working to try to get them signed.”

Estep is proud to see long list of RoundTripper and Indiana Mustangs alumni going on to higher levels of baseball and giving back to the game as coaches, scouts, instructors and tournament directors.

Among those are current or former big leaguers Micah Johnson, Dillon Peters, Kevin Plawecki, Drew Storen, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Tommy Hunter, Lance Lynn and Cory Wade.

Former Mustang and RoundTripper employee Blake Hibler is now program director/event manager for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield.

“This is a place they grew up and it’s pretty awesome,” says Estep. “You’ve got guys out their teaching and coaching the game the right way.”

The Mustangs field 17 baseball and four softball travel teams in 2018.

Much of Estep’s focus right now revolves around the 17U baseball team. Former pro player and current scout Mike Farrell manages the team, Chase Estep is an assistant coach and Chris Estep does his part to help athletes through the college recruiting process.

“Our biggest thing is making sure we’re getting all the kids signed,” says the elder Estep. “We’ve had up to 20 colleges in every game we played in. They’re evaluating these guys.

“The process moves very quickly when they identify the kid they want. We have kids who are not committed that have interest from 15 to 20 schools. They still have choices.”

Estep, 51, notes that verbal commitments can be made at any time, but players can’t sign a letter of intent until they begin their senior year.

He sees the current trend of early commits and shakes his head.

“Slow down a little bit,” says Estep. “Nobody knows what this kid is going to be in eighth grade or their freshman year. Nobody has any idea.

“You may think he has this trajectory. But he may be what he is in that freshman year. Conversely, you may have a pipsqueak that grows to become this unbelievable dude.”

Estep says it’s too early to knowing what a player at 12, 13 or 14 will be at 16, 17 or 18.

“If anybody can tell you what they’re going to be, they’re lying to you,” says Estep. “You don’t know that until he turns 16.

“You may have a fully-developed kid at 13 and 14. All he’s going to do is get hairier. He’s a big, strong kid. But all he’s got is what he’s got.

“Now it’s going to be up to his work ethic.”

That player may not be getting any bigger, so they need to continue developing their skills, learning how to hit for power and to all fields, getting in the weight room to increase their strength and doing what they can to enhance their speed by a tick or two.

“If the skill sets are good, it all comes down to work ethic,” says Estep. “Every kid that comes (to RoundTripper) for a reason. They want to play at the next level — whatever that level may be. The thing they’ll get from us is how hard they need to work.

“You don’t have to take 25,000 lessons. You take a lesson and you have your marching orders of what I need to work on that week.”

Players are asked to answers a series of questions.

How many swings are you going to take?

How many throws are you going to make?

How balls are you going to block?

How many ground balls are you going to take?

How many fly balls?

Are you going to work on your angles?

“The game is just not hitting or defense, it’s all of those things,” says Estep, who has built a reputation in the baseball world and relationships with college coaches and pro scouts.

“When you’ve been in the business for 25 years, they start to trust that you might know what you’re doing,” says Estep. “So they listen to what you might have to say and what your evaluation is.

“As long as your honest about what the kid can do and how he projects, they’ll watch them play and say ‘you’re dead on.’

“You cannot be used car salesman.”

Shooting straight with players and parents also helps the process.

“When you get to this level, parents have to pretty good idea of what their kids are,” says Estep.

Estep says it all comes down to the 16U and 17U summers.

“That’s where (college recruiters) are putting their real (player) boards together,” says Estep. “They call the 16U year ‘The Arms Race.’ Everybody’s looking at arms. They’re seeing position players. They all want to gobble up catchers, shortstops and center fielders.

“They’re the ones making the big bucks so they should know what they’re doing.”

Many times, college coaching jobs are dependent upon winning and claiming championships.

But priorities can change prior to a player signing on the dotted line.

“(Players) can get a commitment, but come November they can get a phone call (from the college) saying, ‘listen, we went in another direction,’” says Estep. “Now the kids out there flopping in the wind.”

Estep and his staff also emphasize the importance of good grades.

“They must understand what the ACT and SAT can provide for you,” says Estep. “The academic money is a big deal.”

Only 11.7 baseball scholarships are offered yearly at the NCAA Division I level. It’s 9 at NCAA D-II, 0 at NCAA D-III and 12 for the NAIA. For the National Junior College Athletic Association, it’s 24 for Division I and II and 0 for D-III.

In the past week, Estep talked with one school and learned that an 1150 SAT will bring a player $20,000. The Mustangs have a half dozen players who have the baseball skills and SAT scores high enough to get interest from Ivy League schools.

Learning to stay cool when the heat is on is another important lesson taught by Estep.

“Baseball is a massive game of failure,” says Estep. “You have to control your emotions. We tell kids, ‘anger is not your friend.’”

In other words: The sport can’t be played in a blind rage.

“We see them turning corners and getting a little better every year,” says Estep. “It’s fun to watch.

“Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong in playing with fire. There’s a very thin line between playing with fire and playing with anger. Anger sets you up for failure. Playing with fire allows you to succeed.”

Estep has watched Indiana baseball enjoy growth in recent years. He submits the 2018 IHSAA State Finals as one piece of evidence of the high level.  Fishers edged Indianapolis Cathedral 4-3 in Class 4A. Andrean bested Silver Creek 6-1 in 3A. Boone Grove shaded Southridge 5-4 in 2A. Daleville defeated University 4-2 in nine innings in 1A.

“It was phenomenal,” says Estep, who completed his 10th season as University head coach in 2018. Guys played great. Everyone is extremely well-prepared.

“I was so impressed with how the Indianapolis Indians and IHSAA ran things (at Victory Field).”

Then there’s the explosion of travel baseball and player development.

“At facilities like ours, you’re seeing them preparing themselves and honing skill sets,” says Estep. “They’re trying to reach their fullest potential.”

The game has also grown with the help of talent identifiers like Perfect Game and Prep Baseball Report.

“(PBR Indiana owner/director) Phil Wade is doing a phenomenal job,” says Estep.

The 17th annual RoundTripper Showcase is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 26. Coaches from 50 or more college programs are expected to attend.

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RoundTripper Sports Academy and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization were both founded by Chris Estep in Hamilton County, Ind.

 

Bellak looking for more than just ballplayers as Hanover College head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grant Bellak jumped into his job as head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College with both feet.

Hired to his first head-coaching position on June 1, a few days later the former Franklin (Ind.) College assistant was already recruiting at an event in Cincinnati and spent the next few weeks looking for student-athletes.

Bellak says he expects to have 32 players in the fall and have recruiting classes of 10 to 12 players the next few seasons.

“I felt comfortable with the recruiting area,” says Bellak, who was the recruiting coordinator at Franklin. “Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college program.

“I want athletes who are big and strong. Power bats and power arms play. Power bats can change the game with one swing. Power arms give you more room for error. You don’t have to be perfect.”

Bella, 32, prides himself in finding value where others miss it.

“I plan on bringing that to Hanover and developing that over four years,” says Bellak. “We want mid-major Division I’s calling asking us to play.”

With the Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville areas as a base, Bellak already has contacts he developed at Franklin that he can use at Hanover. Both are members of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference — an NCAA Division III circuit.

As a D-III school, Hanover (enrollment 1,100) does not give athletic scholarships. The liberal arts institution places a premium on academics.

“The thing I’ve been preaching on the recruiting trail is that fit matters,” says Bellak. “This is not for you if you are not 100 percent Panthers. You have to fit the academic profile, campus profile and athletic profile.”

Almost all of the seniors in his last three recruiting classes at Franklin had job offers prior to graduation.

Bellak is looking for young men coming to Hanover who want to be more than ballplayers. They have aspirations of pursuing careers as CEOs, lawyers, politicians etc.

“Here at Hanover, our focus is wanting guys who want more,” says Bellak. “What is your ‘why’?’

“We want difference makers.”

The Shayne Stock-coached Hanover Panthers went 8-25 overall and 5-12 in the HCAC.

“You can win a lot here,” says Bellak. “The rest of athletic department, that’s what they’re doing.

“It’s one of those opportunities I felt I couldn’t pass up.”

Hanover got Bellak’s attention the first time he arrived on the southern Indiana campus as a Franklin assistant.

“It’s got that ‘wow factor,’” says Bellak. “It’s the way it is back in the woods overlooking the Ohio River and the architecture. There’s lots of green space.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Dick Naylor Field at K.T. Young Ballpark, with its natural grass surface and old trees surrounding the outfield, is also picturesque.

At Franklin, Bellak served on a staff with veteran head coach Lance Marshall.

He saw the behind-the-scenes things that it takes to be a head coach — being an administrator and mentor.

“It’s a different mindset,” says Bellak. “Hours are not just devoted to player development, but developing a program as a whole.

“It’s more than just hitting fungoes and throwing BP. You’re engaging the alumni base and fundraising. It’s all the extras, things the outside world doesn’t see.”

Before Franklin, Bellak was a volunteer assistant at Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, Ill., in 2010 and 2011.

A 2004 graduate of Aurora (Ill.) Christian High School, the Big Rock, Ill., native played two seasons at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Ill., and two at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo.

Bellak was sixth in the National Junior College Athletic Association in stolen bases in 2006 at Waubonsee.

Webster, coached by Bill Kurich, came within six outs of going to the 2008 NCAA D-III World Series.

In 2009, Bellak worked as a student assistant to Kurich.

“Bill knows what it takes to win,” says Bellak of Kurich. “He has the unique ability to get the most out of you.”

Bellak coached three summers with the Prospect League’s Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg, Ind., in 2009-11 — the last as field manager. One of his players was future major league pitcher Sean Manaea.

In 2009, Bellak graduated from Webster with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. He earned a masters degree in leadership and management from Liberty University’s online program in 2013. The latter is a precursor to a Masters of Business Administration.

“(The leadership and management masters) helped me take a different perspective to coaching,” says Bellak. “The business world isn’t that different than a team.

“The way a CEO motivates someone in the office is not much different than how a coach motivates someone on the field.”

Grant and wife Natasha Bellak have a daughter — Bexley (2).

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Grant Bellak is now the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College after seven seasons as an assistant at Franklin (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)