Category Archives: College

Huntington U.’s Frame embraces the relationships

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Frame has experienced plenty on the baseball field.

In his 33rd season as head coach at Huntington University, he has seen plenty of hits, runs, errors, walks and strikeouts.

When he started with the Foresters, Frame was not much older than the players he was leading.

“I was so young,” says Frame. “I was concerned I wasn’t going to be respected.

“I was a taskmaster. I felt like I had to control everything.”

As time passed, Frame’s coaching approach transformed.

“Things have changed a lot since I first started,” says Frame. “The biggest change is probably just me. I try to understand coaching better.”

Along the way, he found his own style and what he came to appreciate more than anything are the relationships.

“You coach baseball differently than you coach other sports,” says Frame. “There’s a different rhythm to it. Maybe that’s just me? Part of being successful in coaching is you have to based on your style. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not.”

Frame, a member of the Huntington University Athletic Hall of Fame and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Halls of Fame, does not scream and yell or play mind games. He speaks in truth and love (Ephesians 4:15).

“You have to establish trust and trust is more than what they do on the baseball field,” says Frame. “It’s about their development as a young man. If you develop trust, there’s no reason to be screaming and yelling or playing mind games.

“Coach and player are in it for the same thing, their development — on the field and off.”

Frame also trusts his coaching staff of Thad Frame (Mikes’s son), Mark Flueckiger,  Brian Abbott, Nate Perry, Scott Craft (strength and conditioning) and Dan Wilcher (student assistant). It’s a group that includes four men who played with or for him.

“They’re not just assistant coaches, they’re friends and family,” says Frame. “I don’t try to micro-manage their time or what they teach. Sometimes I’m leading, but most of the time (in practice) they are in charge.”

What about the future?

“You want to leave the program better than you found it,” says Frame. “I’m 56 and have coached for 33 years. I know I’m not going coach 33 more years. I had major heart surgery in November, I’m very healthy and doing fine. Who do you turn this over to?”

Frame entered the 2017 season with a 770-653 record with 13 conference or conference tournament titles. The Foresters have won three of the last nine Crossroads League tournament championships.

“I’m the winningest coach in Huntington University history,” says Frame, a five-time conference coach of the year and former NAIA district and area and National Christian College Athletic Association district coach of the year. “I’m the losingest coach in Huntington University history.”

Frame describes himself as very competitive, but he tries to keep things in perspective.

“I hate to lose,” says Frame. “I want to be able to challenge (players) in the baseball program, But, 15 years from now when they are a husband or father, I want to help them if I can.”

Not a year goes by when Frame doesn’t get correspondence from a former player telling how the lessons he was trying to impart did not hit home until they were out experiencing life after college.

“‘Now I understand some of the things you were trying to do and the spiritual influence,’” says Frame in relating a recent note he received.

Frame also takes satisfaction in the reputation that’s been built over the years.

“We’re known as a program that does things the right way,” says Frame. “There’s a respect level from the people we play.”

The ’17 HU roster includes 21 players from Indiana high schools. But the Foresters are also looking elsewhere for talent.

“We are expanding our recruiting a little bit into junior colleges,” says Frame. “Our starting third baseman (Andrew Nativdad) played at a JuCo in California. We certainly want to be able to recruit in our backyard, but we have signed a kid from Texas and gotten verbals from California and Iowa.

“(In recruiting), we have to find someone who is comfortable to be at a Christian university and be successful at a very good academic school.

“That weeds some kids out.”

Since the late 1950’s, the Foresters have played home games in a wooded ravine. Forest Glen Park, located on the northeast side of campus, is lighted with a capacity of 900, a press box and double bullpens.

“It’s quality place to play,” says Frame. “It’s kind of my garden. I enjoy just developing that facility.”

This season, the Crossroads League has opted to play a balanced conference schedule. There will be many three-game series (usually a single 9-inning game and doubleheader with 9- and 7-inning games).

“I’m looking forward to that,” says Frame. “The game is different 9 innings vs. 7 and we will have to adjust with our pitching. We are the only NAIA sport that plays more in the postseason (all 9-inning games) than regular season.

“In a perfect world, we’d play five 9-inning games a week.”

MIKEFRAME

Mike Frame is in his 33rd season as head baseball coach at Huntington University.

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Talent, character key for Trine baseball’s Perschke

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A coach assembles a team and he expects that all of his athletes will be there for practice.

At Trine University in Angola where Greg Perschke is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach, it’s rare indeed when all of his players are in one place.

Class and laboratory schedules are bound to keep someone away at a school renowned for math, science and engineering.

“That’s just the way it is,” says Perschke. “As long as I can get the majority of them out there, we can be productive and get a lot of stuff done.”

Thunder baseball players get things done both on the diamond and in an academic setting.

“Forty percent of the kids that join my team are in engineering and they are graduating in four years,” says Perschke. “That’s very impressive.”

Since Trine (known as Tri-State through 2008) transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division III (no athletic scholarships) prior for 2005 season, Perschke has had 25 players on the all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association team with 11 first-teamers. His 2012 squad tied for second in the MIAA and the 2013 team won a school-record 25 games.

On Perschke’s watch, the Thunder have appeared in the MIAA tournament three times.

With two wins, Perschke will reach the 250 mark for his Trine coaching career.

Perschke, who counts Jeremy Campbell and Jon Lies as assistant coaches, handles pitchers, catchers and recruiting for the Thunder. The base is a radius of 2 1/3 to 3 hours from campus.

Like the general student body, many players come from Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. All but four on the 51-man roster for 2017 (33 varsity, 28 junior varsity) are from the Hoosier, Wolverine or Buckeye states. There’s two from Illinois and one each from Wisconsin and Connecticut.

Campbell and Lies do some scouting. Perschke, who is also an assistant athletic director, makes the final call on players.

“Recruiting is the biggest part of the program,” says Perschke. “Hit that hard and early or you’re going to struggle.”

When building his team, Perschke seeks baseball talent.

But that’s not all.

“Character is a big one,” says Perschke. “I get to know that recruit throughout the year. Family also goes a long way.

“Baseball is kind of the easy part. If that clicks, you can move forward.”

Of course, getting players who are an academic fit is essential. With Trine’s focus, most athletes come to the school certain of their scholastic path.

Perschke does find it challenging to keep so many players heading in the right direction. Not an issue when he played or when he began his coaching career, he now must account for how his athletes use social media.

“It’s how they represent themselves, the school and the program. That’s the big thing,” says Perschke. “It’s not a problem. A lot of it’s common sense. But you do have to talk about it more.”

Every other year, Trine players attend a session on the use of Twitter, Instagram etc.

“He’ll talk with them and wake them up,” says Perschke of the speaker’s message. “It’s not just friends, everybody can find (social media posts).”

Perschke is a 1985 graduate of LaPorte High School, where he pitched for coaching legend Ken Schreiber.

“You have to let a lot of stuff roll off your back, that’s for sure,” says Perschke in the book, A Cut Above: The history of LaPorte baseball (published in 2016 by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest). “It made you stronger and a better player. The game’s a mental game and you’ve got to fight through that.”

After LaPorte, Perschke pitched for Southwestern Michigan College, a two-year school in Dowagiac, Mich.

In 1989, Perschke was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft for the third straight year. After being chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 32nd round in 1987 and the Atlanta Braves in the 23rd round in 1988 and not signing either time, the 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher was picked by the Chicago White Sox in the 24th round out of the University of New Orleans, where he had played for Tom Schwaner, and did sign a professional contract.

He went 45-35 in eight minor league seasons with the White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians organizations, including five at Triple-A.

“Schreib, all the managers and  coaches I’ve played for set the tone for everything I’ve done in baseball,” says Perschke. “It’s the foundation of what I’m doing now.”

Perschke received a bachelor’s degree in communications from UNO in 1998.

TRINETHUNDER

GREGPERSCHKE

Greg Perschke is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach at Trine University in 2017.

Childers teaching lessons about adjustment, baseball concepts at Goshen College

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pulling together a Goshen College roster with players from 10 different states and one Canadian province, Alex Childers is going about teaching lessons on and off the baseball diamond.

Childers, who in his fifth season as head coach for the Maple Leafs, wants his athletes to be adaptable, students of the game and above all else — students. After all, GC is a highly-ranked institution of higher learning.

“At the college level, you have got to be good at development,” says Childers, who played his college baseball at Goshen College and Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. “You want to recruit good players, but you’ve got to develop the talent as well.

“When you let then be athletes and players, you can maximize potential. That’s what we try to do.”

Making the most of the fall and winter and the rare spring practices, Childers and his coaching staff of Justin Grubbs, Jackson Callahan and Doug Wellenreiter do their best to create intelligent baseball players.

“I try to teach the game and concepts,” says Childers. “When you micro-manage too much, you’re not teaching the concepts of the game.

“I want guys to understand when it’s a good time to run vs. I’m going to give you the steal sign so you’re going to run. I want players to understand the game. When is it a good time to be aggressive on a ball in the dirt? When is it a good time being aggressive going first to third? As opposed to me just moving the chess pieces around.”

Childers also expects players to be willing to move around on the diamond, which sometimes involves some candid conversations.

“Most guys on our team had a position change,” says Childers. “In the fall, we try to move every single one of our guys around.”

The thought is that knowing a different position never hurts and it gives a player more of a chance to crack the lineup.

“If you think you’re just a second baseman and that’s where you think you’re going to play, that’s great,” says Childers. “But you have to make our team the best when you’re at second base.

“Sometimes that’s a tough concept for guys to get.”

Citing a couple of examples of getting Leafs to buy into a switch, Childers points to current senior Preston Carr and former player Arick Armington.

Carr, who hails from Ontario, came to GC as a pitcher-second baseman. He was turned into an honorable mention all-conference selection and two-time Gold Glove winner in center field.

Armington, who played high school baseball at Elkhart Christian Academy, was convinced to make an adjustment, moving from the middle infield.

“I told him, ‘Aric, we’re better when you’re in center field,’” says Childers. “You have to get guys to buy in.”

And confidence is key.

“It’s a tough thing,” says Childers. “You know how baseball is, if you don’t have an ego you don’t last very long because of how much failure is involved.

“You’ve got to believe that you belong. You’ve got to respect decisions I make as the coach. But if you don’t believe you can do it, you’re in the wrong sport.”

Childers wants his players, especially freshmen, to know what to expect.

“Let’s be honest, here in the north you play on good weather days,” says Childers. “On poor weather days, you’re not playing and you’re back in the (batting) cage. We play 55 games in essentially 2 1/2 months. It is a sprint.”

GC coaches talk about players having the ability to be present.

“We talk say ‘be where your feet are,’” says Childers. “That basically means stats are a reflection of what’s happened in the past, you need to be present right now. If you don’t have that concept, the season can get on you quick. Before you know it, you’re throwing away at-bats or throwing away games and you don’t want to do that in a career that’s so short.”

Some Leafs don’t have a short trip to campus. Besides Indiana and Ontario, the 2017 roster features players from California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

“We have students from all over, why can’t we have baseball players from all over?,” says Childers. “I’d love to have local guys, but we can’t limit ourselves to just that. We have to think outside the box (in recruiting).”

When recruiting, Childers and his staff are looking for players who are academically strong. The NAIA allows 12 scholarships for baseball, but the Crossroads League has a limit of 7.6, so things like institutional aid come into play.

“If the kid has a high GPA, it just increases his scholarship level for the school which I can add onto from a baseball standpoint,” says Childers. “It’s a little bit of a matrix trying to figure out how to package guys the best.”

Childers said players have gone on to professional baseball out of the Crossroads League, but that’s not the focus at GC.

“At the end of the day, college baseball is a means for you to get an education.” says Childers. “If you can keep playing for four more years, that’s just icing on the cake. We treat it that way. I tell parents all the time, we don’t apologize for the academic portion of what we do. You want to keep in perspective what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Childers, who graduated from New Haven High School in 2003, said he owes much of what he knows about baseball to Bulldogs head coach Dave Bischoff.

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who practices harder and is more passionate about the game,” says Childers of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He’s somebody who cares deeply.”

Bischoff instilled in Childers, who was also a New Haven assistant for two years after his college playing days, the importance of mental toughness and getting the most out of players.

“My senior year in high school was a pretty senior-laden group but not the most talented group,” says Childers. “Coach Bischoff got the most out of us. We were a 20-win team and won a sectional title. He fit guys into roles and maximized the potential he had.

“I’m pretty fortunate in having him as a mentor.”

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Alex Childers is in his fifth season as head baseball coach at Goshen College in 2017. (Goshen College Photo)

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Alex Childers (left) coaches third base during the 2014 season. (Goshen College Photo)

Gernon building successful baseball culture at Western Michigan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Billy Gernon is reaping the rewards of his labor as a college baseball coach while also giving back to a game he embraced as boy.

Gernon saw his sixth Western Michigan University squad go 22-34 and win the school’s first-ever Mid-American Conference tournament championship in 2016 while the Broncos earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 1989.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things going on,” says Gernon. “I’m trying to capture that momentum and bottle it.”

Left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin was chosen as WMU’s first MAC tournament MVP and was then selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, getting an invitation to big league spring training in 2017.

Akin was the Broncos’ highest draft pick since Harry Shaughnessy in 1970. Shortstop Connor Smith was named 2016 MAC Freshman of the Year.

As if to prove that old adage about the importance of pitching and defense, Western was among the nation’s leaders in fielding percentage at .978 — the all-time best mark at a school that started playing baseball in 1911.

“The strengths for me as a coach speaks to where I come from,” says Gernon. “Competition for big bats is heavy. Competition for defense is not as high.”

Gernon’s first season in Kalamazoo was 2011 after two at Michigan State University and nine as head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Gernon grew up near the baseball fields near Mt. Tabor Road in New Albany, Ind.

“The game became surrogate father,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time.

“I came from a broken home at a very early age. I had an unexplainable love for the game. I was gifted at pitching. Being good at it probably made me like it more.”

Now 50, Gernon still fondly looks back to his 13-year-old summer at playing Babe Ruth League baseball in New Albany, Ind., for a trio of enthusiastic coaches — Louis Jensen Jr., Buzz Benson and John Shine.

“They were young guys and they were a lot of fun,” says Gernon. “I remember looking forward to going to practice.”

Jensen is now director of high school eduction for New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.

After graduating from New Albany High School in 1985, Gernon took his pitching talents to Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He was the MVP for the IUS and that gave him a chance to play for IU Bloomington as a senior in 1990. Head coach Bob Morgan asked him to join the Hoosiers and he was excited about his opportunity.

Then tragedy struck.

“My brother died it the day I got there,” says Gernon. A car wreck took David Gernon’s life in 1989. “I was a very vulnerable person.”

Morgan’s passion pushed Gernon to succeed on the diamond.

“At Big Ten level, you need to win,” says Gernon. “You need to perform.”

With Morgan’s insistence on hard work, no excuses and accountability, Gernon flourished and became IU’s closer.

“He catapulted me to another level,” says Gernon.

Somewhere along the line, his focus went away from becoming a radio announcer and a chance to coach came along.

“I just decided to go for it,” says Gernon.

There were bumps along the way. At IPFW, Gernon took over a program that made a transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I during his tenure. For seven of his nine seasons in Fort Wayne, the Mastodons were not in a conference and had just five in-state scholarships with no paid assistant coaches. The teams averaged 11 home games and 40 road games per season.

Yet, Gernon still scheduled the best competition he could find even if his record (157-275-3 in those nine campaigns) suffered for it.

“The biggest teacher for me, personally, has been failure,” says Gernon.

Time, maturity and sincerity plus having a son of his own (Jacob David is 16 and a sophomore at Portage Central High School) have also taught him to be a better coach.

“I always try to keep my brother’s spirit alive in me,” says Gernon. “It’s important to me that my players know I love them. I need to do a better job of not only making sure I was saying it, but doing it.”

His Broncos have responded to that passion.

“Players want to perform for me,” says Gernon, who is 136-193 at WMU. “When they don’t, they’re so bothered. They don’t need anything from me but to address the wound.

“Failure is an event, not a person. The game is riddled with failure and great players learn how to deal with it.”

More than ever, Gernon is concerned with building the culture.

“Cultures are more important than anything,” says Gernon. “Great cultures win over talent. It’s my job as a leader to have guys know what the culture is and become great messengers of the team’s philosophy and culture.”

Gernon expects players to spread the word in the locker room: This is how we do things and this is what’s expected.

“Great culture is why Western won the first MAC tournament in school history and went to the NCAA tournament,” says Gernon. “We have great leaders.”

And through it all, he’s giving back.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time. I’m trying to do everything I can to serve it in the form of gratitude. I talk to current players more about their legacy, how they want to be remembered and the mark they want to leave on other players.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach.”

It’s just that important.

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Western Michigan University head baseball coach Billy Gernon played at New Albany High School, Indiana University Southeast and IU Bloomington and coached at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne before heading north. (Western Michigan University Photo)

Balance important to Manchester baseball’s Espeset

rbilogosmallBy STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Manchester University has enjoyed plenty of on-field success in the two decades since Rick Espeset arrived at the campus in North Manchester, Ind.

Espeset, who came from Minnesota, spent two seasons as an assistant then launched into a head coaching tenure that has yielded an 18-year record of 532-324-2.

In the last 17 years, the Spartans have a combined 10 conference and postseason conference championships.

Manchester, a member of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, has made two trips to the NCAA Division III World Series (2004, 2013) and come very close another time (2012).

What’s the secret sauce?

It’s not really a secret for Espeset, who also serves as Manchester’s athletic director.

“We get great cabinet-level leadership here,” says Espeset. “They are very supportive of athletics.”

It used to be the case at Manchester and many school’s on the Spartans’ schedule that baseball was sort of an afterthought with a football assistant being named baseball coach or the baseball coach coerced into also coaching football.

“Now everybody is just coaching baseball,” says Espeset. Most programs have an assistant or two that is considered full-time.

“You need good assistants who will put that investment into building a program,” says Espeset, whose current coaching staff includes Bryce Worrell, Josh Brock Caleb McAfee and Jordan Nieman. “One person can’t do it. I’ve had a bunch of good ones.”

Many of those men have left Manchester and taken head coaching jobs at other schools.

Another reason for Manchester baseball success as Espeset sees it is balance.

Espeset and his staff recruit motivated student-athletes who understand that athletics, academics and social life are all important to campus life. Baseball should not be the only reason a student wants to come to Manchester (enrollment around 1,300).

“We make it a high priority of not taking too much of (our players’ time) time,” says Espeset. “We don’t even try to organize (workouts) in the off-season. Our culture has produced motivated guys (who will do things to get better on their own).

“To me, it’s the perfect balance,” says Espeset. “Time away is one of the most underrated things.”

Time away from having a coach and his expectations gives players a chance to refresh mentally and physically.

“When you decide it’s important for you to do it, you’ll get something out of it,” says Espeset. “We don’t wear them out. They choose to do it.”

By NCAA D-III rules, teams have just 19 weeks (generally four in the fall and 15 in the spring) to get in practices and games. There are no athletic scholarships at D-III. All scholarships are for academics.

With the same man leading the program for so many years, continuity of leadership and direction have also set the Spartans up for a tradition of high expectations.

“They get passed down,” says Espeset, who just finished an eight-year run of having an alum as an assistant. “They feel pressure to continue success from other alums. They work extremely hard not to disappoint the guys they played with.”

Espeset wants to dispel a myth that D-III or NAIA that these college divisions are recreational where “anybody can play.”

“We’ve got guys who work as hard as anybody at any level,” says Espeset. “It’s really hard to get into our lineup. Once people grasp that, they gain an appreciation of what small school baseball is like.”

Winning is always sweet and that’s true at D-III, D-II, D-I, NAIA or JUCO.

“A dogile’s a dogpile,” says Espeset. “It’s the same no matter what level you’re at.”

When Espeset first came to Manchester, his recruiting base was pretty wide. With the Spartans having such a strong baseball reputation, the focus the past dozen or so years has been players within a 100-mile radius of campus.

“There’s plenty of talent in the northeast corner of Indiana to build a program,” says Espeset. “Outside the area, they have to show an interest in us.”

There certainly is interest. Espeset founds his email account working overtime with player who would like to don the black and gold.

And they just might.

If they are the right fit.

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Hunter Lane swings the bat for Manchester University during the 2016 baseball season. (Manchester U. photo)

Rose-Hulman baseball’s Jenkins embraces ‘D-III life’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

While so many would-be college baseball players chase the athletic scholarship, this is not the case at the NCAA Division III level.

Scholarships at D-III are strictly for academics.

“Athletic ability gets them nothing,” says Jeff Jenkins, head baseball coach for 28 years and athletic director for 15 at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. “(Baseball or other athletic teams) have no say in that whatsoever.

“That’s the D-III life. Kids are doing it for the pure love of the game.”

Jenkins, an Urbana, Ohio, native is well-versed in the culture after playing at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, and coaching at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, and Bethany (W.Va.) College — all D-III institutions — before landing in Terre Haute.

It’s all about the studies at Rose, an elite engineering school. Many classes meet until 5:10 p.m. and all the school’s outdoor facilities — including baseball’s Art Nehf Field — are lighted to accommodate late practices and games.

With breaks, weekend games and weekday night games, Jenkins expects his Fightin’ Engineers to miss only 1 1/2 days of classes the entire 2017 season because of two Heartland College Athletic Conference road games.

By rule, coaches are not allowed to have out-of-season contact with players. Teams have to get fall practices (with one contest date of up to 18 innings) and 40 varsity spring games in 19 total weeks (Rose will also have about 20 “split squad” or junior varsity games this spring).

“Some coaches might be in their office going through withdrawal pains,” says Jenkins, who notes that D-III does not present the off-season requirements that face scholarship-carrying athletes.

“We can suggest things they can do to be better players,” says Jenkins. “But the onus is on them. If they want to win, they’re going to do things in the off-season. Our kids are very smart, but they still want to win.”

RHIT has done so on a regular basis. Since Jenkins’ first Rose team in 1990, the Engineers have played in seven D-III tournaments (making the deepest runs in 2014 and 2016 by reaching the Central Regional championship round), won six conference tournament titles and claimed four regular-season championships. This has been achieved in a division that includes private schools like Rose-Hulman with an enrollment around 2,300 and state colleges with several times the number of students all vying for a chance to play in the eight-team D-III World Series in Appleton, Wis.

With the tough academic standards and no athletic scholarships to offer, RHIT has to throw a wider recruiting net, searching coast to coast for players. Of the 43 players on the current roster, four are from Colorado and three from California. Besides these and the 15 from Indiana, nine other states are represented.

“We’ve found our niche,” says Jenkins, whose assistant coach Sean Bendel is in his 19th season. “We’ve won because we’ve found good players who find the time to be successful. We have very nice facilities.”

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Kokomo’s Thatcher on next diamond adventure

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Thatcher didn’t see himself pitching in Major League Baseball.

But he did it.

He didn’t see himself coaching college baseball in his hometown.

But he’s doing it.

Thatcher grew up playing the game in Kokomo. There was UCT Little League and stints with Kokomo American Legion Post 6, Russiaville Cubs and Indiana Bulls in the summer and Kokomo High School in the spring.

Many games were played at Kokomo’s historic Highland Park, which was once home to Kokomo Giants, Kokomo Dodgers and Kokomo Highlanders.

“The short porch in right is what I remember most,” Thatcher said. “It was a cool place to play. There were a lot of stands and so it felt big at the time.”

After graduating from KHS in 2000, Thatcher became a legacy at Indiana State University. His father — Phil — played for the Bob Warn-coached Sycamores and so did Joe.

The Warns were family friends and the Thatchers spent many alumni weekends in Terre Haute. It was an easy decision for Joe to go to ISU and be a teammate of Barry Warn, son of Bob the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

“(Coach Warn) was great,” Thatcher said. “He really cared about his players. You felt you were part of a family.”

A 6-foot-2 left-hander, Joe started as a freshman then served as ISU’s closer as a sophomore and junior. When the Sycamores got off to a tough start in his senior year and there was not much call for someone to get the last few outs, he went back into the starting rotation.

When the 2004 MLB Draft came at the end of final college campaign, Thatcher’s named wasn’t called. Instead, the southpaw played part of two seasons in the independent Frontier League.

Thatcher joined the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2005 and made his MLB debut came with the San Diego Padres in 2007.

By this point, he knew he was exclusively a reliever.

“In organized pro ball, hard-throwing guys are usually projected as closers,” Thatcher said. “I knew I was going to be a left-handed match-up guy (lefty on lefty). That’s what I tried to focus on.”

Sometimes called a LOOGY (Left-handed One-Out Guy charged with getting out the opponent’s big left-handed batters lat in games), Thatcher was also called upon to pitch full innings, worked with his low three-quarter delivery against left-hander and right-handers.

“I always had confidence in myself that I could get anybody out,” Thatcher said. “I ended up having pretty good numbers against righties in my career.

He also kept himself in shape and shared his off-season regiment along with Dr. Jamey Gordon of St. Vincent Sports Performance and USA Baseball at the recent IHSBCA State Clinic.

“I was around some of the best conditioning staffs in the world (in pro baseball),” Thatcher said. “I saw all the innovative stuff.”

Thatcher was with the Padres organization until being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013. He pitched for the D-backs and Los Angeles Angels in 2014 and the Houston Astros in 2015. His 2016 was spent with Triple-A clubs in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs organizations, but was not on the postseason roster during the World Series run. He decided to retire at the end of the season at age 35.

“I’m most proud of how long I was able to play,” Thatcher said. “It takes a lot to stay there and build up that trust with the coaches and front office people. To go from being un-drafted to someone who spent nine years in the big leagues, I’m pretty proud of that.”

Thatcher had studied insurance and risk management in college and planned to follow his father into that business (Phil works for Regions Bank Insurance) and even got his license and spent some off-seasons as an agent.

“I wasn’t planning on having a big league career,” Thatcher said.

Now, he is staying in baseball as associate head coach for a brand new program at Indiana University Kokomo (the IUK Cougars are scheduled to debut in 2017-18). He has been on the recruiting for about a month.

“We have a lot to offer — an IU degree, good coaching staff (including head coach Matt Howard and assistant coach Zach Hall) and (Kokomo Municipal Stadium) is a huge draw,” Thatcher said. “It gives us a leg up on the competition.

“(The school) wanted to make sure they did it right before they started the program so it wasn’t just thrown together. They do everything top level, first class. The only thing small school about what we’re doing is the actual school size (around 4,100 enrolled students, according to the IUK website).”

IU Kokomo has centrally-located campus and is up to nine sports in its athletic department. The Cougars are an NAIA program and member of the River States Conference.

Thatcher will share his experiences with his student-athletes.

“I played with a lot of good veterans and learned how to be a pro,” Thatcher said. “That meant being disciplined enough to take care of your business without being told to do it.”

And he almost didn’t do it at all.

joethatcherpadres

Kokomo’s Joe Thatcher as a pitcher with the San Diego Padres.