Category Archives: College

Gould finds baseball players who fit Taylor Trojans program, keeps on winning

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Put a player in position to succeed and let him do it.

It’s long been a winning formula for Taylor University baseball.

“I try to look at what they do best and figure out how that can impact the game,” says Trojans head coach Kyle Gould. “I don’t care how a guy’s good. I just want to know that they are and they can play to their strengths.”

If a player can run or is exceptional on defense, how can his speed or defensive ability impact the game?

If a pitcher throws hard or a has a mean slider, how can he use those pitches to get hitters out?

“We want to get the best players we can,” says Gould. “As a coach, it’s my job to manage the talent we have.

“If a guy can really bunt for a hit, let him bunt. If he can drive a ball to the gap, let him drive the ball to the gap.”

Over the years, the Trojans have won with dominant pitching and with a deep, talented offensive lineup.

“It’s part of what makes baseball fun,” says Gould. “You can win a lot of different ways.”

Taylor (currently 24-9 overall, 4-4 in the Crossroads League and receiving votes in the NAIA national rankings) has enjoyed sustained excellence since Gould’s first season in 2005, winning just under 60 percent of its games.

In his 14th season, Gould’s career mark is 457-266-1 with 10 campaigns of 32 or more victories. The 2016 squad went 40-18-1 and set a single-season record for wins. Early in March, he surpassed Taylor Sports Hall of Famer Larry Winterholter (444 victories) to sit atop the baseball coaching win list at the school.

Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, has coached seven squads to league titles and produced six CL Players of the Year. Jared Adkins, who is a junior in 2018, was the honoree in 2017.

“Everything we do here is about development,” says Gould. “We’ve had a long run of success because our guys get better every year.”

Following an individualized program, Taylor players work in the weight room and on the practice field so they can contribute to the team.

When recruiting players, Gould and his assistants look for character first.

This is in line with the NAIA Champions of Character initiative, which places emphasis on respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership and sportsmanship.

“You ask our players what their No. 1 job is and they’d say, ‘be a good teammate,’” says Gould. “If you’re not a high-character person, you’re not going to value other people more than yourself.

“You’re going to be a great teammate here or you’re not going to fit in and it’s not going to work.”

Taylor coaches watch how potential recruits interact with their teammates and the way they respond to success and failure.

Gould and company often seek out the familiar.

“You want to find references who know the kid and know you and can evaluate whether it is the right fit or not,” says Gould. “Taylor is a great school. Baseball isn’t the only reason our guys are picking Taylor. They want to grow their faith. They want to get a great education. We sell all of that.”

Taylor, located in the Grant County town of Upland, Ind., has had all 18 of its intercollegiate athletic teams post grade-point averages over 3.0 in each of the past five years and led all NAIA schools in 2016-17 with 17 teams boasting GPA’s over 3.30.

Players work with advisors to get morning classes in the spring, so they’re academic life is interrupted as little as possible.

“We tell our guys that baseball is what you do, it’s not who you are,” says Gould. “We want guys who are passionate about the game. But if they are not interested in an actual education, this isn’t the right fit for them.

“We want our guys to graduate and go on and do things with their lives that matter.”

About 40 percent of the Taylor student body of around 1,900 are Indiana residents.

“We try to be open to the right kids,” says Gould. “We know what we want and we know when we find it.

“Whether that’s a kid from 10 miles down the road or 10 states away, it doesn’t matter.

“We try to do what we do as well as we can. It’s worked for us. I’m proud of the success we’ve had. I’m more proud of the people we’ve had.”

Outside of southern trips and league games, Taylor plays most of its games on the artificial turf at Winterholter Field, using the lights when necessary.

The Trojans played 32 games there in 2017 — far more home contests than any other league squad and likely more than most schools in the upper Midwest.

The 2018 Trojans are currently 17-1 on their home turf and also has three road wins against teams that were in the NAIA Top 25 when the game was played — No. 10 Keiser in West Palm Beach, Fla., No. 20 Campbellsville in Campbellsville, Ky., and No. 22 Indiana Tech in Columbia, Ky. The season opened with games in Florida against Florida Memorial, Keiser and Ave Maria.

“When we travel early, we don’t travel south to play northern teams,” says Gould. “We travel south to play southern teams. It’s one of our rules.

“We want to play good teams and we want to prepare ourselves to play well in the national tournament. We’ve never made it to the (NAIA) World Series. We’re going to continue to chip away until we make it.”

Taylor’s 30-game varsity roster features players with hometowns in nine different states, including Indiana (18), Ohio (3), Florida (2), Kentucky (2), Georgia (1), Illinois (1), Iowa (1) and Texas (1). There are also 15 junior varsity players, representing Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota Ohio and Wisconsin.

Through team’s first 33 games, junior Nathan Targgart (.400), senior Tanner Watson (.370), junior Cody Tait (.321) and sophomore Andrew Kennedy (.319) were the leaders in batting average. Targgart (24), Kennedy (20), Watson (20) and junior Wyatt Whitman (19) were the pacesetters in runs batted in. Adkins (19) led the way in stolen bases, followed by Whitman (15) and junior Josh Lane (15).

With Monday’s two-hit, 4-0 shutout of visiting Bethel, senior right-hander Matt Patton moved to 8-2 with a 1.72 earned run average. He struck out 13 and walked none against the Pilots, sending his season totals to 76 K’s and three walks (one intentional) in 62 2/3 innings (11 starts).

Nine other Taylor pitchers — all right-handers — had appeared in at least eight games.

Senior Rob Fox (0-1, 1 save, 3.65 ERA) has been called upon 19 times, followed by Patton and sophomore Mitch Ubelhor (2-0, 1 save, 0.48) with 12 apiece.

Freshman Luke Shively (4-0, 1 save, 2.49), junior Clay Riggins (3-0, 1 save, 2.36), freshman Drake Gongwer (0-0, 1 save, 2.57), freshman Kole Barkhaus (0-1, 1 save, 9.19 and sophomore eight-game starter Tucker Waddups (3-3, 2.91) have all taken the mound on nine occasions.

Kennedy (1-1, 1 save, 5.40) and senior Trevor Booth (1-0, 1 save, 5.68) have each toed the rubber in eight games.

Targgart played high school baseball at Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian. Watson (Elkhart Christian Academy), Kennedy (Northridge), Adkins (Whiteland), Patton (East Noble), Fox (Delta), Ubelhor (Avon), Riggins (Bloomington South), Gongwer (NorthWood), Barkhaus (Blackhawk Christian) and Waddups (Logansport) are also Indiana products.

Gould, who this year works with hitters and infielder, works with a coaching staff of Devin Wilburn (third season; pitching), Chad Newhard (second season; baserunners and catchers) Rick Atkinson (15th season; outfielders) and Lincoln Reed (second season). Atkinson is in both the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Grant County halls of fame.

Before playing at Taylor, Gould was an IHSAA Class 1A all-state catcher at Triton High School, where he graduated in 1998. His high school head coach was Jim Shively, father of current Trojan freshman Luke Shively.

“He was a really good coach and we did a lot of things offensively that were a little different at the time,” says Gould of Jim Shively. “We were really aggressive. We ran a lot. We hit for some power. We scored a lot of runs. We were difficult to defend and we won a lot of games doing it.

“He was really good at using the best athletes to maximize that.”

Shively coached Triton to a 1A state championship in 2001.

Gould is in his second year as athletic director at Taylor. Jess Fankhauser, a former softball pitching standout at Taylor, is the assistant AD.

“It’s mostly about managing time,” says Gould of juggling his administrative and coaching duties. “We have great group of people in the athletic department.

“It’s a team effort.”

Kyle and Kate Gould have a daughter — Penelope (2). On the day she was born — March 17, 2016 — Taylor won a pair of games in Indianapolis against Marian University with last at-bat home runs by Watson in Game 1 and Reed in Game 2.

“It’s a cool memory,” says Gould. “It’s also a great reminder that there is not one person that makes it all go. No one person is indespensible. The assistant coaches did a great job with the guys and they played really well.

“It’s true in all areas of life. None of us are as important as we think we are.”

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Kyle Gould, who graduated from Triton High School in 1998 and Taylor University in 2002, is in his 14th season as head baseball coach at Taylor. This spring, he surpassed Larry Winterholter for the top spot on the school’s baseball coaching win list. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Motus Baseball technology aimed at injury prevention, performance improvement

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Over-use in baseball has led to many injuries and countless hours on the operating table.

Will Carroll, a former Bleacher Report and FanDuel writer who has been tracking athletic injuries for the past two decades, says that 30 percent of Major League Baseball pitchers end up with the tell-tale scare of reconstructive surgery on their elbow.

“Teams, through no fault of their own, are ramping up pitchers wrong and overextending these guys,” says Carroll, who resides in the Indianapolis area. “There were like 106 Tommy John surgeries at the professional level (majors and minors) in 2016. That’s just too many.

“This is a problem in baseball without any solution. We have a chance to really make a dent in it and maybe reverse it.

“Most people don’t understand the forces they’re putting on their elbow. Ask a player, ‘How many times did you throw?’ The player has no idea. Coaches have even less of an idea.”

But what if these throws could be tracked and the subsequent injuries could be prevented while also improving performance?

That’s the idea behind a product from Motus Baseball that tracks every throw and calculates arm stress and throwing workload.

Motus, founded in 2010 and headquartered in New Jersey, makes biomechanics accessible to athletes and more with clinical-grade motion capture data.

A lightweight sensor is placed into a Motus Baseball compression sleeve and data is collected as the player goes about his daily routine — warm-up, bullpen, long toss, game action.

“It is a product that demos itself and manages itself,” says Carroll, who has joined the Motus team as chief storyteller. “All you have to do is put it on.”

With the aim of protecting young arms, the IHSAA adopted a 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) in 2017.

Carroll says this approach is better than nothing.

“There are better measures,” says Carroll. “We think there’s a smarter way to do it.”

Motus wearable technology can help track fatigue and show that a pitcher’s arm is dropping.

Before, when a coach suspected this, the exchange would go something like this:

Coach: “How do you feel son?”

Pitcher: “I’m fine, coach.”

“They’ve lied to us for 100 years,” says Carroll. “This is demonstrably better.”

Carroll sees the hesitation of those who see this as another baseball gimmick.

“It’s a tool,” says Carroll. “Gimmicks are just tricks. This isn’t a trick, it’s data and it’s powerful data.”

This data is being used all over baseball and is endorsed by New York Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances.

The University of Indianapolis has started using it and head coach Gary Vaught reported at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches State Clinic in Indianapolis that he is more than pleased with the early results.

“I haven’t heard a college coach get more excited about something,” says Carroll of Vaught. “This is the big thing. Arm injuries will kill baseball if we don’t fix it. He took a big leap of faith once he saw it.

“I haven’t seen a team buy in like that and I think they’re going to see the results.”

It’s not just UIndy pitchers using the Motus product. The Greyhounds also have sensors for all their hitters.

Since the state clinic in January, Carroll has watched Indiana high school programs like Center Grove and Carmel begin to use Motus and he has a list of schools that want him to visit.

“When Center Grove and Carmel get something, everybody else is going to want it,” says Carroll. “We think we’ll have 10 or 15 by the time school starts and 100 by next year.”

The tool becomes even more effective in the hands of knowledge coaches.

“This is going to make the best coaches better,” says Carroll. “They can make quicker adjustments. At worst, it will be an early warning system for some coaches.”

Carroll says customer services is important to Motus.

“We don’t sell a product and forget you,” says Carroll. “We don’t change what you’re doing. We want to enhance what you’re doing.”

Motus team members, including Carroll, will help teams analyze the data and essentially serve as part of their medical staff.

“It’s like they just hired five new assistant coaches,” says Carroll.

And it’s not just at the high school level where this will make an impact.

“It’s the younger guys that will pick this up, adjust and use the data that they’re getting,” says Carroll. “This is going to grow from the bottom up.”

Understanding this data will only help them when it comes time to talk with college recruiters and pro scouts.

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New York Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances is a Motus Baseball athlete. (Motus Photo)

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A lightweight sensor is placed into a Motus Baseball compression sleeve and data is collected as the player goes about his daily routine — warm-up, bullpen, long toss, game action. (Motus Photo)

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The Motus Baseball sensor is small, but helps collect much useful data. (Motus Photo)

 

With Indiana’s help, Baseball Tomorrow Academy seeks to grow the game in Nigeria

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball coaches from the Hoosier State received a visit from the other side of the globe.

They showed hospitality to this visitor along with knowledge about the game.

Peter Imonikhe John, C.E.O of Baseball Tomorrow Academy, traveled 6,000 miles from Nigeria to Indianapolis to attend the recent Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic.

“I love the state of Indiana,” says John. “I love the coaches of baseball. They shared a lot of things with me.”

After corresponding with IHSBCA executive director Brian Abbott, the African made the xxx-mile trip and spent three days attending clinic presentations and talking with the state’s baseball leaders.

“I came from Nigeria sponsored by the U.S. Embassy,” says John. “I was able to achieve a lot of things. I learned about pitching mechanics, the infield and outfield, the relationship between the coaches and players and also the relationship between coaches and parents.

“Also, how to recognize players. The (IHSBCA) Hall of Fame (dinner), I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”

John is attempting to make baseball more popular in Nigeria. Soccer is now regarded as the No. 1 sport in that country of more than 150 million.

According to its website, Baseball Tomorrow Academy was established in 2013 and began operation in 2014 as a non-governmental organization that promotes life values through the sports of baseball and softball.

The idea is to keep youth away from drug and alcohol abuse, human trafficking and other problems they face in Nigera while also promoting community pride and economic development and growing the future mentors and leaders.

“The sport of baseball is there to empower them,” says John. “We use it to convince them that if they are playing this game, they are mentally fit and they don’t need to do bad things.”

According to its mission statement, BTA seeks to:

• Increase participation and interest in Baseball and Softball among undeserved children, adolescent and youth.

• Encourage academic participation and achievement among the athletes.

• Increase the number of talented athletes prepared to play in colleges and minor league.

• Promote greater inclusion of minorities into the mainstream of the game of baseball and softball.

• Teach the value of teamwork and spirit of sportsmanship, which is reflected in the pledge of Little League baseball and softball.

John was first introduced to baseball as a secondary school student in 1989 and played in leagues, which eventually went away.

“The game actually died down and now we are trying to bring it back,” says John. “We will have a full league begin play this year.”

To learn more or to help the cause, visit http://www.baseballtomorrowacademy.com or send an email to info@BaseballTomorrowAcademy.com or baseballtomorrow@gmail.com.

SCOTTHUGHESBRIANABBOTTPETERIMONIKHEPAULJEFFMCKEONMARKGROVETERRYMCMANAMA

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association welcomed a visitor from Nigeria to the 2018 state clinic. Flanking Baseball Tomorrow Academy C.E.O. Peter Imonikhe John (third from left) are Scott Hughes, Brian Abbott, Jeff McKeon, Mark Grove and Terry McManama. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Peter Imonikhe John is C.E.O of Baseball Tomorrow Academy, a Nigerian organization promoting baseball and softball. With the help of the U.S. Embassy, he attended the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)

 

Hall helping dial in players as mental game development coordinator at Wright State

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Without your mind, your body’s nothing. You can have the best swing in the world. But if your mental game is not on-point — a 0 out of 10 — that swing goes to waste. Without the confidence. Without the positive self talk. Without the mental toughness, it’s hard to be able to unlock your physical potential” — Diamyn Hall, Mental Game Development Coordinator for Wright State University baseball

Through his own experiences and continued study, Hall is helping develop the mental side for not only his NCAA Division I program in Dayton, Ohio, but his many followers on social media.

Hall, a Centerville, Ohio, resident, played on the diamond at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Grambling (La.) State University and Georgia Southwestern State University and was brought on-board last summer at Wright State as a full-time mental coach — a groundbreaking move in college baseball.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” says Hall, who joined a coaching staff of “go-getters” led by Jeff Mercer (a graduate of Franklin Community High School in Indiana) and also features assistants Matt Talarico (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger graduate), Nate Metzger, Alex Sogard, director of operations Denton Sagerman, volunteer Jacob Burk and athletic trainer Brad Muse. “I’m coming on to a staff where they already believed in the mental game. It’s not a situation where I had to convince them that this is something important. They had already bought-in 100 percent.”

Halls says Mercer — and former Wright State head coach Greg Lovelady (now head coach at the University of Central Florida) — have always been advocates of the mental game.

“Hopefully, this can add a few extra wins to the column,” says Hall, an attendee at the American Baseball Coaches Association national convention, which drew more than 6,100 of all levels to Indianapolis Jan. 4-7. “Now, it’s a matter of executing this role in the best way possible.

“There’s no clear-cut way to do anything regarding the mental game. I’m individualizing for each player as best as I can with the resources that we have.

“I’m feeling my way around and figuring out how to balance efficiency and effectiveness in every situation possible,” says Hall. “It’s a matter of being able to manage the mental game with each of our guys. We don’t want them thinking too much, but we want them to have the tools to succeed.”

As soon as he was hired, Hall began building relationships with WSU players.

He meets with them one-on-one, as a team and in small groups (ie. pitchers or hitters). By using examples that players can relate to most, Hall sees the biggest potential for really driving the message home.

As the Raiders get ready to open the 2018 season Feb. 16 at Tulane University, Hall is loading the players’ tool boxes and setting their foundations. Once the season begins and the Raiders start playing games, he will be in the dugout as a quick fix.

It’s going to be more ‘observe and serve.’ If everything’s good, I’m not going to have to do too much. At the end of the day, you want to give them all of the tools so if you drop off the face of the planet, they’ll be able to use the things you’ve taught them and they’ll know what works for them and what doesn’t. I believe that Awareness Activates Ability.”

Hall counts it as extremely important, that players are competing one pitch at a time, controlling what they can control, staying in the present moment and keeping their confidence level and their teammates’ confidence as high as possible at all times.

Many baseball coaches are emphasizing the mental side and don’t realize it.

“If they talk about discipline, leadership, competing one pitch at a time and keeping your confidence high, they sound like a mental game coach,” says Hall, who says the mental game works best when it is ingrained in hitting, pitching, base-running and fielding and not looked at as a  separate entity.

To foster growth of the mental game, Hall suggests implementing as many competitions in practice as possible and making practice feel more game-like for the players.

“Now you’re bringing up the competitive nature,” says Hall. “It plays a big role in the culture, in which Coach Mercer has created.”

Hall filled up notebooks with his observations during his playing days and learned the importance of keeping the body relaxed under pressure.

“The higher the stakes, the more calm, relaxed and confident you must become,” says Hall, who wants players to get to the point where treat those moments not as high-pressure situations but as tests to see how well they have been working on the things that really matter.

Some baseball people call it “Backyard Loose.”

“You want to be in that state at all times or at least as much as possible,” says Hall. “You need to practice those things in order to be able to implement those things during the game.”

Among Hall’s mentors is Dr. Charlie Maher (Sport and Performance Psychologist for the Cleveland Indians).

Hall, who holds a bachelor’s degrees in Psychology from Grambling State and Sociology from Georgia Southwestern State and is pursuing a masters and doctorate in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, is constantly educating himself.

“I make sure I’m always learning the newest things through self-education,” says Hall. “When I’m driving, I don’t listen to music anymore. I usually listen to a podcast or an audio book. To some, music is what moves the soul. For me, constantly and serving, is what what moves my soul. It keeps me going.

“If I have a 13-hour trip to Louisiana for a speaking engagement that can be time for me to learn. I make sure I’m getting all the best information so that I’ll be able to use with our guys

“I want to be able to practice what I preach and maximize on every single moment and execute things one step at a time.”

Hall uses the analogy of a dresser. Pull all the drawers out at the same time and it tips over. Or pull out one drawer at a time; putting all of your focus and energy in that drawer, closing it, and then moving on to the next drawer.

“That’s what it means to compete one pitch at a time,” says Hall. “For me, it’s learning one thing at a time. The language is all the same, it’s just a matter of where we’re applying it.”

Hall shares his gained wisdom with more than 15,000 Twitter followers at @DiamynHall and upwards of 6,200 Instagram followers at diamynhall can be contacted through his website — DiamynPerformance.com. His girlfriend — Grambling State volleyball player Diemend Richardson — is expected to join the business soon.

“I do it for the players and coaches that want to get better,” says Hall. “It’s just kind of taken off.”

Hall began his baseball-playing career as a high school sophomore. He played at football powerhouse Kettering Archbishop Alter (the Knights won Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV state champions in 2008 and 2009) and sustained a neck injury. Doctors found that he had congenital spinal stenosis (a narrowing of fluid in the spine) and would not clear him to play football again.

He turned to baseball.

“When I first started playing a lot of coaches told me, ‘you’re not going to be able to play at the next level,” says Hall, a 2012 graduate of Centerville High School. “‘You’re not good enough. You’re not skilled enough. It’s too late to pick this up.’

“Of course — in my mind — I believed otherwise. I worked my tail off day after day and was getting a decent amount of results. I was a 5-tool player, but I wasn’t get the results I thought I should be getting with the athletic ability that I had so I turned to the mental side of the game.

“I wanted to find an edge to be able to separate myself from everybody else — not only catch up to my peers, but pass them.”

The first mental game book Hall read was “Heads-Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time (by Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza)” and it gave him the foundation that led to his role as a mental game coordinator.

Drs. Hanson and Ravizza, who have come out with “HeadsUp Baseball 2.0,” were clinic speakers at the ABCA convention in Indianapolis.

DIAMYNHALLSTEVEKRAHABCA2018

Diamyn Hall (left) speaks to IndianaRBI.com’s Steve Krah at the 2018 Indiana Baseball Coaches Association convention in Indianapolis. Hall is the Mental Game Development Coordinator for Wright State University baseball.

ABCA’s Sheetinger covers the bases of college baseball recruiting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Navigating the maze that can be college baseball recruiting, players and their parents can use some straight-forward answers.

Jeremy Sheetinger, a former college player and coach who is now College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association and ABCA “Calls from the Clubhouse” Podcast host, travels the country to offer advice.

That’s just what he did recently in a visit to the South Bend Cubs/1st Source Bank Performance Center as guest of director Mark Haley and Indiana University South Bend head coach Doug Buysse.

Sheetinger, who played at Franklin County (Ky.) High School and Kentucky Wesleyan College (NCAA Division II) and was an assistant and recruiting coordinator at both Brescia University (NAIA) and assistant at Georgetown College (NAIA), Director of Operations at the University of Kentucky (D-I), lead assistant and recruiting coordinator at Saint Joseph’s College (D-II) in Indiana and head coach at Spalding University (D-III) in Louisville, packed in plenty of information.

The high-energy Sheetinger, who now lives in Greensboro, N.C., where the ABCA is headquartered, and also serves as a associate scout with the Atlanta Braves, covered coach evaluations, parents’ impact and role, contact with coaches, campus visits, resources, differences in collegiate levels, finding the right fit, making a recruiting video, camps and showcases and a timeline for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

EVALUATION

Sheetinger, who has given talks on recruiting about 2,000 times and worked baseball camps in 35 different states, says coaches are always evaluating and projecting players.

They use their past experiences and players to judge current players.

“We’ve got to use what we know to be true,” says Sheetinger. “If I see a kid who’s 6-2, 180 with a clean right-handed swing, I will remember a player who went on to be a conference player of the year. If I see 5-7, 135 with a bad swing (and short parents), I know that kid is never going to be 6-2.

“I’m looking at you through the eyes of all the players I ever coached. Mom and dad, it has nothing to do with your opinion of him as a player.”

If catchers take too long to get rid of the baseball with a very slow POP time, but can mash at the plate, they might help a college team as a first baseman.

A player with strong, accurate arm who can run might be a fit in a college outfield. But that throw must be on the money.

“When it’s time to throw something out, you’ve got to throw somebody out,” says “Coach Sheets.”

It’s also possible that movement that hurts a player in the outfielder helps him as a pitcher.

What about that big-bodied kid at shortstop for his high school?

“He can’t play short in college, but he’s got a great arm,” says Sheetinger. “Where can he play for me? Third base.”

The five baseball tools are hit for power, hit for average, defense, arm strength and running speed.

The average high school player has an exit ball velocity of 75 to 84 mph, average arm velo of 70 to 80 mph in the field, 70 to 75 mph at catcher and a 60-yard dash time of 7.0 to 7.2 seconds.

“I’m not telling your how to spend your money,” says Sheetinger. “Hitting lessons are great. Pitching lessons are great. But think about speed lessons and conditioning lessons.

“Think about going to the track at 6 o’clock in the morning and running sprints. You go, Sheets, what are you talking about? I’m not going to the track at 6 a.m. That’s why you run a 7.9. I’ll be your best friend if you just let me.”

Velocity is not the ultimate indicator for pitchers. Pitch control, secondary pitches, composure and maturity, athleticism and handling the running game are more important.

For all players, there are intangibles like attitude, leadership, energy, Baseball I.Q., confidence, clutch and the will to win.

“College coaches are watching everything,” says Sheetinger. “They don’t miss a beat. When you’re in a showcase event or you’re in a game and coaches are present and you hit a ground ball back to the pitcher, I want to see your best 90 time.

“That stuff matters. Run your best time every time.”

Sheetinger says players are evaluated on how they handle adversity and points to the example of a recruiting trip he made while at Saint Joseph’s, looking to offer a 75 percent scholarship to a pitcher.

This kid had stuff. But he also had an attitude, though the man calling balls and strikes was squeezing him and did not hesitate to let everyone in the ballpark know it.

“Bad umpires are multiplying daily,” says Sheetinger. “That ain’t going away. I’m more interested in your body language and presence.”

The pitcher enjoyed two lights-out innings then ran into adversity in the third.

He plunked the first batter, uncorked a wild pitch to send the runner to second and then gave up a duck snort and a double in the gap. A mound visit from his coach was greeted by plenty of walking around, cap removal and lack of eye contact.

“We’ve got maturity issues,” says Sheetinger.

The coach returns to the dugout and it’s duck snort, double and another hit-by-pitch.

When the coach comes back out to take the pitcher out, the youngster heaves the ball toward the sky and the coach catches when it comes down. Before the pitcher crosses the foul line, he fires his glove into the dugout.

Recruiting visit over.

On another recruiting trip, Sheetinger remembers seeing the opposite kind of behavior. A strong No. 3 hitter popped up on the infield in a key situation.

With Sheetinger’s eyes following him the whole way, the player carries his helmet and bat to the dugout, does a 30-second re-set, puts down his equipment and his back on the rail cheering before the No. 4 hitters sees his first pitch.

“That’s a great teammate,” says Sheetinger. “That’s a really good kid. Two weeks later, he gets a Division I offer. He was never going to come to play for me. But I like watching kids like that.

“It doesn’t show up on paper. But things matter.”

Sheetinger says it is easy to measure things like fastball velocity and 60-yard time. But not everything fits on a spreadsheet.

“Some things you can’t coach,” says Sheetinger. “Can you really coach someone to hustle? I can probably put fear into you to hustle. But either you hustle or you don’t.  It’s like either your pants are on-fire or they’re not. It’s not up to me to light your pants on-fire. It’s who you are internally.”

These kinds of players won’t get out-worked. They need to be taken seriously.

PARENTS’ IMPACT AND ROLE

Parents can either be a huge positive or negative influence on their son’s recruitment.

What parents do could be the first impression a coach gets about the player.

“Parents, as a college coach and as a scout, I don’t think you’re sweet when you yell at umpires,” says Sheetinger. “That’s the biggest turn-off for me of anything you do.

“Nobody barks at you when you flip burgers, let him do his job. If you want to be a coach so you can bark at umpires, apply for the job. If you need to do that, go to some other team’s game so we can track it back to your kid on the field.

“I assure you I’ve asked over a hundred people in the stands at a showcase ‘who’s dad is that?’

“Please change your ways. It reflects bad on your son.”

The Blame Game is not welcome.

“If you something against your high school coach, ask yourself this question: Does he really have something against my kid or is my kid just not good enough?,” says Sheetinger. “Most coaches will play the best players because most coaches like winning.”

Coaches pick up on how parents and players talk and act toward one another.

Players are expected to be in the forefront of the recruiting process.

Sheetinger encourages players to spend two hours twice a week doing online research on their college choices. If they are decided on their major, they start with that and see how many possible schools offer it. Then the look at the performance of the baseball program through archives, rosters and statistics.

“If a school has gone 10-40 10 years in a row, guess what Year 11 is going to look like?,” says Sheetinger. “If that coach has been there 10 years and they won five his first year, 10 his second, 20 his third year, 25 the next years and the last three years they’ve won the conference championship, that dude’s building something. The coach can’t hide that.

“Do your homework.”

The young athletes should be the ones communicating with coaches through minimal calls and emails.

“Players, take ownership of this process,” says Sheetinger. “I don’t want emails from mom and dad.”

CONTACT WITH COACHES

Email is the best way to reach out/introduce yourself to a college coach.

These emails should come from an appropriate address and be “meat and potatoes” — Subject … Name … Graduation Year … Position(s) … Hometown/High School … Grades … Research … Video link (include this with every correspondence).

Players should expects emails, texts and calls from coaches and be quick to respond to them.

Sheetinger advises players to treat every program as the most important one and to be respectful of the coach’s time and efforts.

Evaluation is still happening and communication is the key. Body language, eye contact, handshakes and paying attention all matter.

How do players talk?

What is important to them?

Sheetinger compares recruiting to dating.

“I like you,” says Sheetinger. “I’m going to try to convince you to like me.”

“I’m going to give you my spiel. We’re going to get to know your son because in a way because coaches step in as pseudo-stepfathers. We need to have a relationship. We need to have a bond. We’ve got to get along. (Parents) won’t be there.”

CAMPUS VISITS

This gives a player and his family a glance at the coaches, program, campus life and academics.

They will meet with the admissions and financial aid departments and get a campus tour etc.

Coaches will run the first visit.

Sheetinger says players should do 90 percent of the talking and parents 10 percent.

Players may make 10 official visits (spend the night) and unlimited unofficial visits (day visits).

On these visits, players are allowed to work out at D-II, NAIA and junior college schools but not at D-I and D-III.

There is a difference between a Baseball Visit (set up through the baseball staff) and Admissions Visit (no guarantee to see the baseball staff).

RESOURCES

College/University websites offer information on admissions and financial aid as well as biographies, archives, statistics and rosters for the baseball program.

Other helpful sites and resources: NCAA.org (rules, info), NCAA.com (stats, champions), NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly Clearinghouse; helps with collection of transcripts, core classes; D-I and D-II must register; cost is $65), NAIA.org, NAIA Eligibility Center (handles transcripts; all players must register; $75), FAFSA.gov (Due Oct. 1 of Senior Year), high school guidance counselor.

DIFFERENCE IN COLLEGIATE LEVELS

NCAA Division I (295 programs) may offer 11.7 max scholarships if fully funded (60 percent). Roster limits are 35 at the end of the fall with 27 on 25-percent scholarship.

Recruiting has ramped up for the majority of D-I teams.

NCAA Division II (254 programs) can give 9.0 max scholarships if fully funded (40 percent). There is no roster limit. That number will be set by the school, athletic department or coaches.

The top program work ahead in recruiting. Most are year-to-year.

NCAA Division III (383 programs) does not offer athletic scholarships. It is all academic- and financial-aid based. Like D-II, rosters are only limited by program choice.

Early decisions and admission dates are important. Most schools are year-to-year with their recruiting.

NAIA (187 program) may offer 12.0 max scholarships with exemptions. Again, there is no association-dictated roster limit. The majority of programs recruit year-to-year.

Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, is one of the best college teams in the country regardless of level. The Warriors have won the NAIA World Series 19 times, including 2015, 2016 and 2017.

NJCAA (410 programs across 3 divisions) gives 24.0 max scholarships in D-I, 24.0 max Tuition scholarships (no room and board) in D-II and zero athletic scholarships in D-III. The association imposes no roster limits. Recruiting is year-to-year at most of these two-year institutions.

Tyler (Texas) Junior College has taken the last four straight NJCAA Division III national titles.

Sheetinger says there is great baseball at all levels. The top teams in D-II, D-III, NAIA and NJCAA can win games on the D-I level.

He sums it up by saying that at the upper levels of D-I, most programs are already 90 to 95 percent done getting commitments from current seniors (Class of 2018) with juniors (Class of 2019) 80 percent done, sophomores (Class of 2020) 60 percent complete and freshmen (Class of 2021) 30 to 40 percent already committed.

“That’s how accelerated recruiting has gotten,” says Sheetinger. “It wasn’t that way 10 years ago.

The ABCA recently conducted a recruiting summit. A panel of 16 coaches came up with a proposed recruiting calendar to calm down the early signings.

“Coaches don’t like evaluating 13-year-olds,” says Sheetinger. “It’s hard enough to project a 16-year-old. D-II, D-III, NAIA and junior college are hot on this senior class. You’ve got to keep things in perspective.

“There are a lot more opportunities out there.”

Sheetinger says the reason many people recall their college years so fondly is because they are 18 to 22 and away from their parents and figuring out what kind of man, worker, husband and father they’re going to be. They are sorting out their religious and political views.

Take 35 guys spending nine months together on busses and in dorm rooms, weight rooms, locker rooms and cafeterias while figuring this out and you see the beginnings of lifelong bonds.

“It’s the best experience of your life,” says Sheetinger. “If you can go play, you should go play.”

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Players must be a fit for a program, taking into consideration that coach’s style and the recruiting class.

Sheetinger likes to use the analogy of the fork with each prong being a priority in the college decision-making process. The fork could have as many as five prongs.

Prongs are sure to include academics and fit. Does a school offer the degree a player wants and how does he fit into the needs of the baseball program?

“You never go to play at a school that doesn’t offer a degree that you in your heart of hearts really want,” says Sheetinger.

Other things to consider are social atmosphere on-campus, location/geography and the cost.

A player might social butterfly and being in clubs or fraternities and going to concerts is important.

How big is the college compared to the player’s high school or hometown?

Is the school close enough for parents to regularly attend games?

How’s the weather?

If you don’t like the cold, maybe a school in upper Michigan is probably not for you.

If players have not asked their parents how much they are willing to pay out-of-pocket, they need to have that conversation.

Sheetinger says it is best to funnel down toward a players’ top choices of schools from 10 to 5 to 3.

Players should be aggressive, working toward and “yes” or “no” answer.

Can I play here or not?

Responses from coaches should be treated as hot leads. Response should be quick and player should try to get more info on the program and work toward campus visits.

MAKING A RECRUITING VIDEO

A professional video is not necessary. A good smartphone video will do the trick.

But a video is key. It gives coaches instant evaluation.

The video should be short. Position players will have five swing views from the side and five from the front or behind. Show a variety of defensive movement and throws (maximum of 8).

If a player has speed, show it with a 60-yard home-to-first video clip.

Pitching videos will show five fastballs, five curves and five change-ups from the wind-up and three each from the stretch.

Game footage must be edited.

Contact info, stats and coach’s info may be included.

CAMPS AND SHOWCASES

Players interested in a particular school are encouraged to go to their camp and be seen by their staff.

They must be mindful of database emails (every email doesn’t mean they are being recruited) and the “Cattle Calls” approach to camp population and marketing.

Campers should ask if other colleges will be attending. The price should be justified with how many possible evaluations they will receive by their attendance.

Sheetinger says it’s important to think of the coach’s perspective.

They notice players who stand out (bright cap and stirrups and name on the back of a jersey is helpful) and ones who exhibit hustle, energy, positivity and confidence.

A handshake and a thank you to every coach at the end of camp will go a long way.

TIMELINE

Freshmen are pointed toward strength and speed training, attending camps to get familiar with that environment and focusing on grades etc.

Sophomores continue with strength and speed training and camps and after the high school season begin emailing college coaches with info, videos, summer schedule etc.

Juniors have a very important year and season. They are looking to get their name out there. They do the training and camps and showcases in front of a large number of college coaches. They send emails to college coaches before the summer begins. They begin to funnel their list of schools.

Seniors  have a very active year. They do all the training and attend unsigned senior events. They are aggressive with emails to coaches and ask for campus visits. In the fall, they have campus visits, submit applications and many will commit. In the spring and summer, they will make final visits and commit.

ABCA CONVENTION

The ABCA national convention is coming Jan. 4-7, 2018 to the Indiana Convention Center and JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. More than 6,000 coaches and 330 exhibiting companies are expected.

JEREMYSHEETINGERCORNBELTSPORTSCREDIT

Jeremy Sheetinger is College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association. He was in South Bend recently to advise players, parents and coaches about college recruiting. (Cornbelt Sports Photo)

 

Indiana State’s Hannahs mixes old school with new

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mitch Hannahs has been involved in sports for most of his 50 years and he’s learned from wise men.

The former Ohio schoolboy and All-American second baseman for Indiana State University who became an ISU Athletics Hall of Famer is now heading into his fifth season as the school’s head baseball coach.

His style is a reflection of playing for Hall of Famers — Mark Huffman in high school and Bob Warn in college.

At Skyvue High School (since consolidated with Woodsfield into Monroe Central in southeastern Ohio), he witnessed the patient of Huffman as he ran basketball and baseball teams. Huffman is in the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“A lot of young guys are impatient,” says Hannahs. “(Huffman) had a very calming hand. That really helped me.”

Hannahs says patience “gives you the rope and the time to develop a young player.”

Positive results are not always going to be instant and both coach and player need to realize that.

Hannahs not only played for American Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Warn, helping ISU to 172 victories and three NCAA Tournament appearances 1986-89, he came back to Terre Haute to be a Sycamores assistant.

“There’s old school. He’s double old school if there’s such a thing,” says Hannahs of Warn, who guided Hannahs and company to the 1986 College World Series. “His camps were tremendously tough. He taught us to be tough between the lines then carry ourselves like a young man should off the field. It’s something that’s carried with me for a lot of years now.”

It’s a transfer that not every athlete can master but Hannahs wants ballplayers who can be hard on the field and soft off it.

“An edge is required,” says Hannahs. “We have to have it and develop it.

“You have to be tough and resilient as you possibly can between the lines. You have to become very comfortable being uncomfortable. That comes with playing athletics at the very highest level. Then you walk out the gate and become the humble contributor to society.”

Another thing that Huffman did with his players was challenge them. He was famous for his overloads in basketball practice, sending five men against seven or eight.

“He was always creating ways to challenge us,” says Hannahs of Huffman. “I was telling my guys the other day about winning a court in the summer. If you didn’t win, you didn’t play. My guys had no clue what I was talking about.”

That being said, Hannahs news himself as a mix of the old and new.

“I like to think that I apply a lot of older tactics into a more modern approach,” says Hannahs. “It’s good to connect and have a rapport with your players.”

Hannahs has produced winning teams and players that have gone on to professional baseball.

In his four seasons to date, the Sycamores have won 127 games, made an NCAA Tournament and had three top-3 finishes in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Hannahs is the sixth coach in program history to record 100 or more wins. ISU rewarded him with a contract extension through 2020.

Following a 29-26 season (12-9 in The Valley which also includes Bradley, Dallas Baptist, Drake, Evansville, Illinois State, Loyola, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Valparaiso), four Sycamores were selected in the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — right-handed pitcher Will Kincanon by the Chicago White Sox (ninth round), second baseman Tyler Friis by the Cleveland Indians (21st round), right-hander and Franklin Community High School product Jeremy McKinney by the Washington Nationals (31st round) and righty submariner and former Terre Haute South Vigo standout Damon Olds by the Kansas City Royals (33rd round).

Keeping the talent coming to the ISU campus requires recruiting the right players.

“We want to get the best players we can find,” says Hannahs. “If we can pull them out of your back yard, that’s great.”

But don’t expect Indiana State to get commitments from players who are barely out of junior high — which is a big trend in major college baseball these days.

“When that early commitment stuff began to maintain some integrity, we said we can’t jump in quite so early,” says Hannahs.

The coach notes that North American players can’t be signed until late in their high school careers and yet high-profile college programs are getting verbal commitments from 15-year-olds.

“It’s an arms race so to say,” says Hannahs. “They are getting their (recruiting) classes organized earlier.”

Why is this happening?

“Because they can,” says Hannahs. There is no rule against it. Players can’t sign that early, but they can say they are going to School X at anytime.

“It creates a storm,” says Hannahs.

Plus, signing is one thing and actually making an impact is another.

“No one has researched number of kids who stay and contribute at these schools,” says Hannahs.

The coach notes that the very best players are easy for anyone to identify and project. It’s in the second and third tiers that the waters become murky.

ISU has gotten more involved in recruiting junior college players and has no less than 13 former JUCO athletes on the 2018 online roster.

“It allows us to watch them another year after high school before we make that decision,” says Hannahs.

The world of travel baseball closely relates to recruiting.

“Travel baseball has been very good in terms of exposing young players to potential recruiters,” says Hannahs. “It’s led to early signing and committing for a lot of kids.

“Those two coupled together have negatively impacted high school baseball. Some kids — after they commit — shut down on their high school team. That’s not to knock travel. It’s accomplished what people set our for it to do. I wish we didn’t have the negative impact on the other side.”

The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A player can be loyal to his high school program and participate and thrive in travel baseball.

“We all have priorities whether we put it on a list or not,” says Hannahs. “Travel ball has been placed higher than high school in the minds of many.”

Hannahs says he wants players who are concerned more about helping the team win than their own accomplishments.

“It can be a tough adjustment period for guys who spend their younger years trying to be seen,” says Hannahs. “If you try to produce for your team and are motivated to help them win, colleges are going to beat your door down.”

MITCHHANNAHS

Mitch Hannahs, who played at Indiana State University 1986-89 and is in the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame, is entering his fifth season as Sycamores head  baseball coach in 2018. (Indiana State University Photo)