Purdue Polytechnic Englewood — a charter high school on the Near East Side of Indianapolis — becomes IHSAA baseball tournament-eligible in 2023. The Techies are part of a Class 3A sectional grouping with Beech Grove, Christel House, Herron, Speedway and Washington. Purdue Polytechnic Englewood (enrollment around 580) is a member of the Greater Indianapolis Conference (with Christel House, Eminence, Indiana Math & Science, Irvington Prep, Metropolitan, Riverside, Tindley, Victory Prep and Washington). IMS and Victory Prep are not expected to field baseball teams in 2023. Eric James, who is an IT Specialist at the school and coached offensive linemen for the past four Purdue Polytechnic Englewood football seasons, is the Techies first-year head coach for the third-year baseball program. James was an assistant to Ryan Broadstreet in 2021 and 2022. Player development is a priority for James. “At our school a lot of the students don’t come to the school for athletics,” says James. “The guys that do come out have a love of baseball. I want to see strides of improvement. That’s my satisfaction.” James is a 2013 graduate of Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis, where he played football, baseball and golf and participated for a short time in wrestling. He was an Information Technology major and Management Information Systems minor at Indiana State University, graduating in 2017. Purdue Polytechnic Englewood players participated in the Indianapolis RBI program in the summer and fall. “That allowed them to get more reps and opportunities to play the game,” says James, who is assisted by Donald Baker III and Derrick Strode and expects around 18 players for a varsity-only season at Purdue Polytechnic Englewood in the spring. “We’re trying to get some recognition so our guys can play at the next level.” The winter IHSAA Limited Contact Period is going on now. “We’re just trying to get in as much of the fundamentals as possible,” says James, who has his Techies improving their footwork, agility as well as catching and throwing techniques. “We’re putting emphasis on fundamentals and why they do things and how it effects them on the field. “We’re getting them as much baseball knowledge as we can.” James attended his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 12-14 in Indianapolis. He picked up many pointers on drills, strength and conditioning and more. “It was very informative,” says James. “I did enjoy my time there.” The Schweitzer Center at Englewood houses Purdue Polytechnic Englewood and Paramount Englewood (elementary). The schools are in the renovated P.R. Mallory Building. Techies athletics use the facilities at T.C. Howe Community High School located about two miles to the east. Purdue Polytechnic North is located in the former Broad Ripple High School. The Lynx have separate sports programs.
Matt Voorhees has won regularly in his two stints as head baseball coach at North Montgomery High School in Crawfordsville, Ind. He eclipsed 100 wins 2009-14 and saw the Chargers go 17-11 in 2022. But that’s not the focus for the graduate of Crawfordsville High School (1993) and Wabash College (1997). “At North Montgomery we truly believe in developing the person above the player,” says Voorhees. “Our coaches truly invest in the individual and talk about the importance of helping them become quality people. “We take an active interest in the academics and promote responsibility. Each player is held to a high standard. “We promote team unity and try to make it a family atmosphere. Every player should have leadership qualities and we try to give them the opportunity to be leaders not only on the field but in their everyday lives. The better the person the more complete the player! “Every player in our program should complete their high school career knowing that they mattered.” North Montgomery (enrollment around 525) is a member of the Sagamore Athletic Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community, Frankfort, Lebanon, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone). SAC teams play each other two times. The Chargers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2023 with Frankfort, Northwestern, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. North Montgomery has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2018. Voorhees is a law officer. He started with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department and has been with the Indiana State Police the last 24 years. He has also served as an assistant coach at Marian University in Indianapolis and coached at Southmont High School in Crawfordsville. As a high schooler, Voorhees played left field as a freshman and three years as a catcher. His head coach was John Froedge, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. Rhett Weliever was an Athenians assistant and still fills that role. “Coach Froedge was amazing in the development of men! His Christian values will always stick with me as he demonstrated great concern and care for his players. “Every day I knew that he cared about our integrity and the quality of people that we were. It was easy to give maximum effort for a coach that you admired and trusted. “Never once did I doubt that his decisions were anything but pure and in our best interest. He has gone on to win numerous conference and multiple State championships. He definitely left his mark on Indiana high school baseball.” Voorhees was a catcher at Wabash College in Crawfordsville. Head coach Scott Boone and assistant Bill Boone then led the Little Giants. “(Bill Boone) is an amazing coach that truly invested in our lives,” says Voorhees. “Bill was a person of character that went on to become the head coach at Wabash for a stint. He always would say, ‘Carpe Diem — Sieze the day!!!’ And boy did he live his life that way. Much like Coach Froedge, Bill left all of his players knowing that he truly cared about them. He was a great model for me.” In 1997, Voorhees graduated from Wabash with a degree in English and minor in American Education. He earned a Masters in Organizational Leadership from Indiana Tech in 2020. North Montgomery’s 2023 assistant coaches include Ryan Cole, Bill Warren, Alex Hall, Shawn Verhey, Kai Warren, Curt Dyson, Joe Swick and Griffon Lawson-Fuller. Cole was a four-year starter at Purdue University and a former Indiana Bulls player. Bill Warren was a pitcher and catcher at Wabash College. Hall played middle infield at Wabash College. Verhey was an pitcher/outfielder at Glen Oaks Community College in Centerville, Mich. Kai Warren was pitcher and middle infielder at Wabash College. Dyson played at Crawfordsville and has been an Indiana Thunder coach. Lawson-Fuller played at North Montgomery and is a U.S. Army veteran. There are currently 38 players for varsity, junior varsity and — perhaps — C-team games. “We are very blessed to have such an interest in our program. The Chargers have two on-campus diamonds. “Our coaches take great pride in the field at North Montgomery High School,” says Voorhees. “We believe that it is the least we can do. “Our players work hard on the game so we will work hard to give them a nice field to play on.” Baseball is valued in Crawfordsville and the North Montgomery program is fed by recreation, club, middle school, travel and American Legion baseball. “I cannot begin to thank all of the coaches that have an impact on our players development from 6-year olds all the way through high school seniors,” says Voorhees. “We have a lot of unity throughout the organization.” “I’m just very blessed to work at a school like North Montgomery. The administration is phenomenal and does a great job in investing in the students. “A special ‘thank you’ to our athletic director (and former Rockville High School and Butler University baseball player) Matt Merica. He is amazing to work with.” Matt and wife of 28 years Buffie have two daughters — Jesika Voorhees (25) and Ashlynn Lawson-Fuller (23).
Jeff Samardzija grew up in a hard-nosed atmosphere. Father Sam’s favorite coach was Indiana University’s Bob Knight. His favorite team was the 1985 Chicago Bears. Dad played semi-pro hockey in the Windy City. “My upbringing was pretty intense with my dad,” said Samardzija Friday, Jan. 13, the day he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. “Luckily I was the second son. He worked the kinks out with my older brother and I kind of loosened up a little bit on me. “I ended up having a good run there out of Valpo.” Sam Samardzija Jr., was an all-state football player who became an agent for Wasserman Baseball representing his brother. He is the first-born son of Sam and Debora Samardzija. She died in 2001 at 46. Jeff Samardzija, who turns 38 on Jan. 23, played wide receiver and helped Valparaiso (Ind.) High School to an IHSAA Class 5A state runner-up finish as a junior. The 2003 graduate was runner-up as Indiana Mr. Football and Indiana Mr. Baseball as a senior. McCutcheon’s Clayton Richard won both awards. “He is the standard,” said Samardzija of Richard, who went on to pitch in the big leagues and is now head coach at Lafayette Jeff. “Quarterbacks — they get all the love.” Samardzija, who is of Serbian decent, went to Notre Dame on a football scholarship and was also allowed to played baseball for the Fighting Irish. “My first two years in football at Notre Dame I wasn’t very good and didn’t put up very good numbers,” said Samardzija, who caught 24 passes for 327 yards and no touchdowns in 2003 and 2004 for the Tyrone Willingham-coached Irish. “I had a lot of success in baseball my freshman and sophomore year.” It was as a frosh football player that Samardzija received his nickname of “Shark.” “When you start freshman year you get hazed by the older guys,” said Samardzija. “I didn’t have beautiful, thick facial hair like I do now.” One day an ND veteran tagged him as “Shark Face” after an animated character. “I had a good football season and somebody on ABC — (Bob) Griese or sometime said, ‘The Shark is running through the middle of the defense,’” said Samardzija, who caught 77 passes for 1,249 yards and 15 TDs in 2005 and 78 for 1,017 and 13 in 2006 with ND coached by Charlie Weis. “From then on people started calling me Shark.” Samardzija did not pitch that much in high school. “When I got to Notre Dame they made me pitch because football didn’t want me to play the outfield,” said Samardzija, who went 5-3, posted a 2.95 earned run average and was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Magazine in 2004 then followed that up with 8-1 and 8-2 marks in 2005 and 2006 for head coach Paul Mainieri. “It was a great scenario. You don’t have to do off-season conditioning in football. You don’t have to do fall ball in baseball. You get to pick-and-choose where you want to go. “Being on a full scholarship for football, the baseball coaches loved me. I was free. They didn’t ride me too hard. They just wanted me to show up on Saturdays and pitch. I threw a bullpen on Wednesdays. Everything else was football.” After Samardzija did well as a collegiate pitcher and then excelled in football as a junior he now had to decide if his path going forward would be on the gridiron or the diamond. “I had a dilemma on my hands,” said Samardzija. “I had given so much to football my whole life. It was never travel baseball. It was always travel football. “Baseball was always my release. It was never work and it was never a chore to be out there on the baseball field. “I had to fight for all my respect in baseball because I was labeled as a football guy.” With the National Football League showing interest, two-time baseball and football All-American Samardzija was selected in the fifth round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs. He made his MLB debut in 2008. He was with the Cubs 2008 into the 2014 season when he went to Oakland Athletics. That was the same year he was chosen for the All-Star Game though he did not play. Samardzija played for the Chicago White Sox in 2015 and San Francisco Giants 2016-2020. He won 12 games in 2016 and 11 in 2019. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound right-hander with a four-seam fastball that got up to 99 mph appeared in 364 games (241 starts) and went 80-106 with one save and a 4.15 earned run average. “It’s tough when you have to choose a path,” said Samardzija. “I made the right decision.” A gift from the family and more than 40 donors, Samardzija Field at Tower Park is a youth diamond in Valparaiso. Mostly off the grid in retirement, Samardzija is an avid fisherman and has spent plenty of time in recent years on the water. Sometimes “Shark” encounters sharks. “When I’m in Tampa we’ll get out there,” said Samardzija. “You don’t want to catch them, but sometimes they show up. “I’ve enjoyed kind of just pulling back. It was a go-go-go life there for a long time.” Samardzija and partner Andrea have two children.
Dr. Joe LaPlaca — founder of Ares Elite Sports Vision and Ares Sports Vision Academy — has long had a goal. Graduated from Illinois College of Optometry in 2009, LaPlaca started his sports vision optometry practice in 2018. “I noticed there’s a gap in the market for vision and how it relates to every sport,” says LaPlaca. “In optometry schools and athletics we’re missing it. “There’s a big opportunity there and something I always wanted to do. “Eighty percent of how we experience the world is through our eyes. How do we make this better?” A lifelong athlete, LaPlaca has been involved in soccer, baseball, hockey, wrestling, tennis, football and martial arts and more. “Sports has always been a passion of mine and understanding the nuances of the games and understanding how vision relates to all those sports,” says LaPlaca. “I take this very seriously. It’s primarily for research. I know what impact this can have on an athlete. “This could be the thing that gets a kid a college scholarship or not. This is the thing that could take a Triple-A baseball player up to the major leagues. “If we can clean things up and I can get them bought-in and processing — and I know I can — it’s huge for a lot of people.” “I want to make the biggest impact I can on the sports world.” LaPlaca’s practice is located inside Mojo Up Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind. LaPlaca sees vision and cognitive training working together. “How do we take all the information we’re getting from the vision side and how does our brain make decisions?,” says LaPlaca. “How does it orient in space?” LaPlaca says athletes encounter visual discrimination. In baseball, batters must learn to recognize pitches based on factors like rotation, release point and speed. “The ones that excel at that are the ones who are able to make the decision once they’ve seen the actual pitch and process that information,” says LaPlaca. “It’s called choice reaction time. Do I swing or do I not swing? If we can break it down to simple steps of ‘do I go’ or ‘do I not go’ that’s what — hitters especially — are concerned the most about. “That’s the holy grail that everybody is chasing right now. How to I train at that piece and how do I know I’m getting better at that thing?” In LaPlaca’s practice, he makes it a point to track all the analytics. “Through training we can equivocally say you’re getting faster in your choice reaction time,” says LaPlaca. “It should improve your batting average, your strikeout percentage (and more). Those are the things coaches are (seeking).” LaPlaca says it is progressions that he puts athletes through that makes the difference. “A lot of people train with their tablet or their phone,” says LaPlaca. “We do a lot more free space. We’re connecting the visual stimuli to an action for your right hand or your left hand or a closed fist or an open fist. There’s eye-hand coordination drills. “All these things are custom for that specific athlete based on specific areas of weakness.” Currently, the youngest Ares client is 9 and the oldest is 64. “There’s no age limit to it,” says LaPlaca. “13 is probably the best. They’ll start going through puberty. They’ll have growth spurts. We can stay on top of how their eyes and brains connect to their body (as they grow). “On the other side they come out and are a lot stronger than kids who weren’t doing vision training.” LaPlaca doesn’t see an end point for this training and that those wishing to be a NCAA Division I athlete or professional will continue this training for a long time. Currently, LaPlaca is working with the baseball programs at Purdue University and the University of Maryland and has worked with Butler University in the past. He has also visited with a Major League Baseball organization. LaPlaca estimates that few of the collegians or pros he works with had heard of vision training and more than a third had never had an eye exam. “That seems to be the more glaring thing,” says LaPlaca. “They think that just a vision screening is good enough. When in the world are they just standing and looking at one specific spot? “They’re using their visual and neurocognitive systems way more frequently than they even understand.” Typically, athletes are evaluated and ranked against their teammates and against other athletes of similar caliber. LaPlaca can identify those with serious visual issues and refer them to a local vision therapist. Ares Elite Sports Vision is on Facebook and Instagram. LaPlaca has been a frequent podcast guest. Here are links to some of those episodes:
Tre’ Watson played for one state championship baseball team at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind., and was an assistant coach for another. Now he’s the interim head coach for the Pioneers. His promotion was announced in late October 2022. Watson, who turned 25 in September, helped guide players through the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period and is doing so again this winter. There has been individual skills work, including hitting and defense. “We’re pushing baserunning,” says Watson. “That’s going to be pretty big for us. “We have a lot of speed and a lot of smart baserunners.” The idea is to force the opposing defense into mistakes and capitalize on them. “That was not our M.O. when I was playing,” says Watson, noting that Providence went 27-3 his final prep season with all three losses being by one run. “We had really good pitching and offensively were good at situational hitting.” Watson was a key member of the 2016 IHSAA Class 2A state championship squad as a senior. He drew two walks and made two putouts while playing first base and third base in the state championship game and was presented with the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award. After an injury-plagued stint at Vincennes (Ind.) University, Watson (who has had four knee operations and one hip surgery) moved closer to home, enrolled at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany and joined Scott Hornung’s Providence baseball staff for the 2018 season. Watson worked toward the Business Administration degree he earned in 2021. Longtime assistant Scott Hutchins took over the Providence program after the 2019 season. The Pioneers won another 2A state crown in 2021. Eli Watson — younger brother of Tre’ — was a senior in 2021 and also was named to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. Eli is now a redshirt freshman outfielder at Western Kentucky University. Providence (enrollment around 350) went 18-11 in 2022 and is an athletic independent. The Pioneers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Clarksville, Crawford County, Eastern (Pekin) and Paoli. Providence has won 20 sectional titles — the last two in 2021 and 2022. Home games are contested on Pioneer Field with its turf infield and Bermuda grass outfield. The synthetic surface makes rainouts a rarity. Among the eight seniors on the 2023 team are three college commits — middle infielder Grant Borden (Mercer University), right-handed pitcher/third baseman Cody Jackson (Anderson University) and right-hander Grant Seebold (Oakland City University). Sophomore outfielder Cole Huett, who swings and throws lefty, is verbally committed to the University of Virginia. Grant Borden is the brother of Houston Astros minor leaguer Tim Borden II. Other impact players include seniors Nathan Julius (outfielder), Casey Kaelin (middle infielder) and Brantley Whitlock (first baseman/third baseman) and juniors Jack Beyl (outfielder/right-hander), Luke Kruer (outfielder/right-hander) and Brian Wall (second baseman). Watson, who expects to have 25 or 26 players for varsity and junior varsity squads, counts Jay Lorenz, Jared Clemons, Brian Jackson, Scott Hornung and Reece Davis among his assistant coaches. Lorenz squeezed home the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning in the 2016 state title game. Hornung is Watson’s father-in-law. Tre’ married Jacquie Hornung (Providence Class of 2016 and a former volleyball player at Bellarmine University in Louisville) in 2021. The couple resides in New Albany. Tre’ Watson was born in Louisville to Charles II (aka Chuck) and Denna Watson and was raised in Jeffersonville, Ind. He was part of successful all-star teams at Jeff/GRC Little League. Outside of coaching, Watson is business manager of St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish in New Albany.
Paul Gries has been a very active member of the Evansville, Ind., athletic community. The Pocket City native taught for 34 years in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation — 10 at Plaza Park (K-8) and the rest at Central High School. His main subjects were Physical Education and Health. Whatever the season, Gries was organizing and coaching youngsters in flag football, softball, baseball, soccer, basketball and more. In 1978, he accepted an invitation to join John Wessel’s Central boys basketball coaching staff. In 1980, he was asked to be a Bears baseball assistant. “We hardly had a program at all,” says Gries, who took over as head coach in 1981 and began working in earnest on Central’s field. “If you want to call it a field,” says Gries. “It was nothing. But I had dreams of what I wanted the baseball field to look like.” With the help of players, coaches and parents, a diamond which was named in honor of Gries in 2016 (Paul Gries Field was dedicated in 2017 a few days after Gries underwent heart surgery) was steadily-crafted. Gries, 79, was head baseball coach at Central for 21 seasons (1981-2001) before retiring at 58 and going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2002. His teams went 408-196 and earned the first seven sectional titles in program history (1981, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1996, 1997 and 1998) plus the first two regional championships (1981 and 1987) and only semistate crown (1987). Central lost 4-1 to the LaPorte’s mythical national champions in the ’87 state championship game at Bush Stadium in Indianapolis. Gries coached in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1987 and was named National Coach of the Year in 2000. “I had some good players (including 1985 graduate and future big league pitcher Andy Benes) and tied to get the most out of every player,” says Gries. “I was spending 14-hour days at Central High School. I was putting every ounce into it. “It just wore me out.” It was in 1987 that Gries was approached by longtime professional baseball man and Evansville resident “Singing” Ed Nottle, who had a daughter who was taught by Gries. Nottle wanted to help Gries and other coaches raise money for their programs. “We had car washes, candy sales and whatever you can image, but we were making making peanuts until Ed came along,” says Gries, who gathered all the high school and college coaches in town at the EVSC office and what came from planning sessions was the Friends of Bosse Field “Night of Memories.” What began as a group of former baseball professionals who wanted to ensure that the history of Bosse Field would not be forgotten while fundraising turned into the Tri-State Hot Stove League. Gries served with that organization for 31 years, including stints as vice president and president, and is still involved. One of the first “Night of Memories” guests was National Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. Gries flew to New Jersey to bring Yogi to town. Over the years, Evansville native and Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Don Mattingly aka “Donnie Baseball” was at the first special night and has only missed it on a few occasions. Gries coached Taylor Mattingly (Don’s oldest son) at Central. When Don was playing for the New York Yankees, he would get in the batting cage take swings after winter workouts by the Bears. “He’d say, ‘Paul, give me some situations.’ I’d, ‘man on third, tie game, one out in the eighth or ninth inning’ and Mattingly just hit those fly balls,” says Griese. “It was unbelievable how Mattingly prepared himself.” The next Tri-State Hot Stove League “Night of Memories” is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023 at Meeks Family Fieldhouse in the Carson Center at the University of Evansville. A paid autograph session is slated from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Central Time followed by a chat and live/silent auction at 6. Featured guests include Don Mattingly, Jamey Carroll, Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Barrett, Colson Montgomery, Elijah Dunham, Cameron Decker, Wayne Hagin, Denny McLain, Darrell Evans and Graig Nettles. “He’s unbelievable,” says Gries of emcee Hagin, who has been a play-by-play man for the Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets. “People love listening to the stories.” Among past guests: Mattingly, Carroll, Eickhoff, Barrett, Hagin, Gabby Allison, Rick Ankiel, Clint Barmes, Andy Benes, Yogi Berra, Raymond Berry, Lou Brock, Don Buse, Steve Carlton, Jack Clark, Roger Clemens, Danny Cox, Andre Dawson, Jim Edmonds, George Foster, Kyle Freeland, Steve Garvey, Bob Gibson, Goose Gossage, Mark Grace, Bob Griese, Kevin Hardy, Keith Hernandez, Whitey Herzog, Paul Hornung, Al Hrabosky, Andruw Jones, Tommy John, Jim Kiick, Harmon Killebrew, Lily King, Ray Lankford, Tony LaRussa, Johnny Latner, Larry Little, Gaylord Perry, Bobby Plump, Ozzie Smith, Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson, Scott Rolen, Enos Slaughter, Frank Robinson, Andy Van Slyke, Lee Smith and Brad Wilkerson. “They come from all over when they know Don Mattingly is here,” says Gries. “They can get close to him. People in New York can’t do that.” College/Pro Football Hall of Famer Griese (Rex Mundi High School Class of 1963 and Purdue University Class of 1967) has been to many “Night of Memories.” “We do this for the kids,” says Gries, who notes that the a non-profit group has raised close to $2 million for youth athletics and youth-focused organizations in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky in three decades. Gries says the event at its peak netted up to $90,000 in one day. Some of the money has been given to Habitat for Humanity. Gries says Mattingly, Bob Griese, Brian Griese (Bob’s son who now coaches with the San Francisco 49ers), Calbert Cheaney (a 1989 Evansville Harrison High School graduate who played at Indiana University, the National Basketball Association and now coaches with the Indiana Pacers) and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan (who played at Evansville College and the NBA and was a longtime NBA coach) all gave large sums to sponsor homes. A 1961 graduate of Evansville Mater Dei High School, Gries’ prep baseball coach was Len Will (an Indiana Football Hall of Famer). “He was the gentlest man that I know,” says Gries. “That was the example he shared with us (athletes).” On the basketball court, Gries eclipsed the 40-point mark three times including a single-game record of 44. That was long before the 3-point arc was put in place. Mater Dei was led on the hardwood by Ed Schultheis in Gries’ freshman and sophomore years and Tom Gore in his junior and senior seasons. Gries went to Indiana State College (now Indiana State University) for basketball and baseball during an era when freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity. The injury bug kept biting him on the hardwood. He suffered torn cartilage working out early in his freshman year then experienced ankle and groin ailments as a sophomore and decided not to stick with the Duane Klueh-coached Sycamores. On the diamond, Gries earned three letters (1963-65, helping the Sycamores go a combined 37-24-2) playing for Paul Wolf (who wound up as a member of both the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and ISU Athletics Hall of Fame). One of his fond memories is playing catch with future IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tommy John and having John feed the pitching machine for him during preseason workouts before the 1961 Terre Haute Gerstmeyer High School valedictorian reported to spring training. Gries paced Indiana State in batting average, hits and runs as a junior in 1964 (.357, 25 and 20 ) and senior in 1965 (.413, 26 and 13). He hit .439 in conference games and was Indiana Collegiate Conference co-MVP with Ball State’s Merv Rettenmund (who went on to play 13 in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and California Angels and coached for the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres twice, Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers). “The great thing about Paul Wolf is that he was old school,” says Gries. Wolf was a minor league middle infielder 1926-33, including time with the Indianapolis Indians in 1930-31. He was able to pass on wisdom to Gries, who was a switch-hitting shortstop at Indiana State and moved to second base in his second of two pro seasons in the Washington Senators organization (1965-66). “Pee Wee” (he was 5-foot-9 and 157pounds) spent much of the 1965 Appalachian League season on the disabled list with a sprained ankle after a collision at home plate. It was during the Vietnam War era and Gries left baseball to joined the U.S. Army Reserves and got married for the first time. “I got to see the difference between high school and college and college and pro,” says Gries. “What a big step it is.” Divorced in 1989, Gries was single for 14 years and has been married to Mary, a fellow Catholic who moved to Evansville from Auburn, Ind., for 19 years. Gries has five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. “They are the joy of my life,” says Gries. “I’m going to spend as much time with my kids as I can.”
Andy McManama has learned there is power in precision when it comes to life and baseball and has demonstrated this as an an instructor/mentor at World Baseball Academy and assistant coach at Carroll High School — both in Fort Wayne, Ind. His father — Terry McManama — was a longtime assistant coach to Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of FamerMark Grove and a Business teacher at Churubusco (Ind.) High School that passed along the importance of structure to he and wife Marla’s only child. “It’s being on-time and being detailed,” says Andy McManama. “There’s work to be done. If we practice hard we can have fun and play games, but we have to make sure our work is getting done first.” His grandfather owned a horse farm and was involved in harness racing. Andy was a 9-year Whitley County 4-H Horse & Pony Club member and worked his way through the offices of secretary, treasurer, vice president and president. The fairgrounds are in Columbia City. “Growing up whether it was the baseball side or having a horse side it’s we’ve got some work to do to take care of things,” says McManama. “That’s always been a family thing — working hard for what you have.” McManama grew up attending many World Baseball Academy programs, played catcher at Carroll for head coach and NEIBA Hall of Famer Dave Ginder and graduated in 2009 — the same year he became a World Baseball Academy intern with the RBI program (now On Deck Initiative for underserved and at-risk boys and girls). Andy has applied his guiding principles as an instructor as well as Ginder’s bullpen coach. He has been on the staff since 2016. “I’ve enjoyed being in that program and just how much attention to detail there is,” says McManama. “It’s how my brain functions and is wired. “We dot our i’s and cross our t’s. Our kids play hard. That hasn’t changed since before (Ginder started leading the Carroll program).” The IHSAA adopted a pitch count rule (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) that went into effect during the 2017 season and rule now includes all levels. “I think it works well,” says McManama. “It all comes down to player safety. With 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids, their bodies are still developing. It’s really good from not overusing (their arms). “The IHSAA has done a good job. It’s regulated now. It’s not just a free-for-all or everybody can do whatever they want.” McManama notes that all pitch counts are not the same. “A 100-pitch seven-inning outing is completely different to a 100-pitch three-inning outing,” says McManama. “You could have three high-stress innings and that makes a big difference. “If a kid has 60 to 80 pitches through three he probably isn’t going to make it to his 100 or 120 unless you have to. Those are high-stress innings that don’t help the kids arm or body for sure.” Coach Mac has served in several capacities at the ASH Centre, including tournament director and director of operations. This year, he took a full-time job with Allen Business Machines but still provides group and one-on-one lessons at World Baseball Academy two times a week as well as helping at Carroll. “I enjoy working with catchers and pitchers quite a bit,” says McManama. “Lesson-wise we’ll do it all.” With World Baseball Academy, McManama traveled to Bulgaria and worked with the Bulgarian Baseball Federation in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 made a visit to Kenya in 2013. A group from Bulgaria came to Fort Wayne in 2014. “Those trips are eye-opening,” says McManama. “You see how other kids live and interact on the other side of the world. “It’s a humbling experience on how many things we have here that we take for granted sometimes. It makes you appreciate a lot more. “Being able to work with kids and see them grow — not just from an athletic perspective but as a young adult — is pretty gratifying to me.” Locally, the WBA partners with schools and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne through its On Deck Initiative. There are more than 1,000 kids involved in the program. McManama was raised as a Chicago Cubs fan and attended his first game at Wrigley Field while in elementary school. At the horse farm, the radio was often tuned to the Cubs broadcast with Pat Hughes and Ron Santo in the spring or summer and Purdue football or basketball in the fall or winter. “I actually prefer the radio broadcast for the Cubs rather than TV sometimes,” says McManama. “(Hughes and Santo) kept it interesting.” Santo went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 2012. Hughes is the Hall of Fame’s 2023 Ford C. Frick Award winner. McManama was in Cincinnati when Sammy Sosa slugged his 500th career home run April 4, 2003. The clout came on a 1-2 pitch from reliever Scott Sullivan and the opposite-field blast sailed over the wall in right. More proof of his Cubs leanings: Andy has two female dogs named Ivy (8-year-old Australian Shepherd) and Wrigley (14-year-old Beagle/Lab mix). Andy resides in Fort Wayne and is engaged to Tabitha Marrs.
In its storied baseball history, Shakamak Junior/Senior High School in Jasonville, Ind., has appeared in an IHSAA state championship game eight times. Dylan Collins was on three of those teams — 2012, 2014 and 2015. The Lakers reigned over Class 1A in 2014. Collins played catcher his first two varsity seasons, second baseman as a junior and shortstop as a senior. He was in the 2-hole in 2012 and at the top of his team’s batting order in the 2014 and 2015. His head coach for the first three seasons was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip Sweet. Todd Gambill took over the program after Sweet’s retirement. “Coach Sweet was an all-around good guy,” says Collins. “We looked up to him as a father figure. He was very well-respected and we wanted to win for him. “We had only one year with Coach Gambill. He was energetic. He knew what he was getting and we produced for him.” Collins played two seasons at Vincennes (Ind.) University for Chris Barney and one at Purdue Northwest for Dave Griffin. “(Barney) wanted me from the first time he saw me,” says Collins. “He told you how it was and lived up to the promise. “(Griffin) was an honest guy and fun to play for.” Collins came back home to work at Jasonville Utilities and joined the Shakamak baseball coaching staff. After three seasons as junior varsity coach, Collins was named last week as head coach. As a product of a program that has has won 27 sectional titles (the last two in 2021 and 2022) with state championships in 2008 and 2014 and runner-up finishes in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2012, 2015 and 2021, Collins knows that expectations are high in the Shakamak community. “That’s what drives me to do what I do,” says Collins. “That’s the fun part of it.” Every time Collins comes to Shakamak on-campus diamond he recalls the Laker legacy. “It’s all the history there,” says Collins. “I remember 2004 and one of the first state runs. My brother (Class of 2006’s Derek Collins) was on the team. I was young and running around. “There are so many memories.” Collins’s 2023 coaching staff features Class of 2015’s Jake Walters and pitching coach Braxton Yeryar and Jason Pegg (Bloomfield alum) with previous head coach Jeremy Yeryar (Shakamak of Class of 1993) also helping out. Braxton Yeryar was Collins’ teammate at Shakamak and a teammate and roommate at Vincennes U. As the man in charge, Collins wants his Lakers to “refuse to lose” and play with confidence. Among returnees from a 2022 team that went 16-14 is Indiana Wesleyan University commit and senior Brady Yeryar (.559 with seven home runs and 34 runs batted in as a junior). Ethan Burdette (Class of 2021) is now at VU. Shakamak (enrollment around 200) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, North Central of Farmsburg, North Daviess and White River Valley). SWIAC teams meet each other one time. The Lakers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Bloomfield, Clay City, Dugger Union, North Central (Farmersburg) and White River Valley. Shakamak is to open the 2023 season March 31 at Jasper. There was weight training and conditioning for the Lakers during the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period. Collins says hitting and other activities will take after the Christmas break. Shakamak has a junior high baseball team of seventh and eighth graders which play on the high school diamond in the spring. Another feeder is the Shakamak Youth League (T-ball through majors). Collins and girlfriend Bailey Scott have a 4-month son named Kooper Collins. Dylan’s parents are Jeff and Denise Collins. Jeff Collins (Shakamak Class of 1983) played for head coach Herschel Allen and once held batting records for the Lakers. Brooke Griffith (Class of 2007) is the sister to Dylan and Derek.
Washington Township won the IHSAA Class 1A state baseball title in 2021 without hitting a single home run during the season. The Randy Roberts-coached Senators went 27-7 without leaving the yard one time. Randy’s father, Norman Roberts, who died in April, used to pester his son about all the bunting. “I just wished we didn’t have to,” says Randy Roberts. “But you’ve got to put the ball in play (with a bunt or a swing) and make (the defense) make the plays. “More often than not those routine plays are what costs the game.” Roberts, who has been head coach at Washington Township since the 1996 season, says hitting is hard and “bunting is just desire” and catching the ball with the bat. “Striking out has to be a fate worse than death.” Washington Township (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, Morgan Township, South Central of Union Mills, Tri-Township and Westville). The PCC crowns round robin and tournament champions. The Senators won the round robin in 1999 (tie), 2001, 2006 and 2014 (tie) and tournament in 1999, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2021. The Senators are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Bowman Leadership Academy, DeMotte Christian, Hammond Science & Technology, Kouts and Morgan Township. Washington Township has won 10 sectional titles — all since 1999 and the last in 2021. The Senators were 1A state champions in 2021 and state runners-up in 2019. That’s all on Roberts’ watch. Typically, Roberts has about 18 players to fill varsity and junior varsity rosters. Over the years, the coach has had young men come out that were not very good players but they came back year after year. “Those kids are the ones that go on and are successful adults,” says Roberts. “The fact is that they’ve committed to something and the easiest thing to do is quit. “That’s what most kids do.” The 2022-23 Senators did not participate in IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities in the fall and had some optional workouts this week. Assistant coaches for 2023 are Christian Lembke (Washington Township Class of 2010) and Nick Sutton. “He’s a good baseball man,” says Roberts of Sutton. “He loves the game.” Lembke, who played for Roberts, is a fourth grade teacher at Washington Township Elementary School. James Kirk (Class of 2023) was the Senators’ top hitter for a 5-16 squad in 2022 at .423 with four homers and 23 runs batted in. Nathan Winchip (Class of 2024) led the team in pitching wins with three and innings with 32 1/3. A 1978 graduate of Warsaw (Ind.) Community High School, Roberts earned an Education degree from Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. The Lancers were then coached by Tom Roy. “He’s a very spiritual man,” says Roberts. “He’s just the kind of guy you’d want to be. “Coach Roy is the man to follow in his relationship with Christ.” When Roberts was in school Grace went to Puerto Rico on one of its spring trips. “I loved it down there,” says Roberts. A year after he graduated a director from Puerto Rico’s Wesleyan Academy was visiting Roy and Roberts, who was substitute teaching and working for the Warsaw parks department, learned of an opening for an elementary reading teacher and baseball coach. Roberts went to work for the school in Guaynabo for two years. The first year the baseball team lost in the first round of the playoffs. The next year brought the island’s private school championship. Private schools were separated into two divisions — A and B. Citizens interested in an education or having wealth sent their children to private schools to learn English. Public schools taught in Spanish. Division A schools offered scholarships and would often take the best ballplayers from Division B. “It was not very common for a Division B school to beat a Division A school,” says Roberts. After a regular season of about 20 games, it took three wins to earn the championship. The last two for Roberts’ team came against Division A schools, including Robinson School in San Juan featuring future big leaguer Eduardo Perez (son of Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Perez). “Puerto Rico was the job of my life — never to be duplicated,” says Roberts. After coming back to Indiana, Roberts worked and helped coach baseball at Wawasee. Then came the opportunity to teach young adults in the Middle East. He spent two years in Saudi Arabia and one in Dubai and made some money. There was no baseball, but he did play softball. “I got on a really good team that was like the Yankees of the Middle East,” says Roberts. “It was during the first Gulf War and there were a lot of military teams in the league. “It was pretty competitive.” Roberts came back to Indiana and worked at a pickle factory and substitute taught at John Glenn, Bremen and Plymouth. Then came the opportunity to teach and be an assistant track coach at Washington Township in the spring of 1995. At that time, grades K-12 met in the same building. In 1995-96, Roberts started a long run as a sixth grade teacher and transitioned to fifth grade. In 26 baseball seasons, he’s posted a mark of 472-261. What has made Roberts’ time leading the Senators worthwhile is the relationships. “The parents here in the community have just been phenomenal,” says Roberts. “They stood behind me. “If mower needs fixed, I call a parent. When we built the batting cages in the gym it was always with parental help.” When Roberts and an administrator did not see eye-to-eye it was the parents who were there to back the coach and educator. “They had a Facebook page and all these people are writing posts in support of me,” says Roberts. “It was kind of like my living funeral.” Roberts had offers to go to a bigger school over the years, but decided to stay put. “It’s been a good place,” says Roberts. “I’ve had principals that I’ve just been blessed and grateful to have worked under them the whole way. “They say everything happens for a reason.” Then there’s Roberts’ pride and joy — the Washington Township baseball field aka Senator Park. Located on the campus that sits along S.R. 2 on the east edge of Valparaiso, the diamond with a rustic feel features wood purchased from a smaller Menard’s store that was closing to make way for a bigger one. The first few quoted prices for the wood — $20,000 and $10,000 — were too high for the school’s budget. “Eventually they called me and said we’ll give it to you for $4,000 and we’ll not take a cent less,” says Roberts, who placed a $1,000 down payment on the wood and players, coaches and parents loaded three semi trailers. The next spring it spent five weekends and many hours after practice putting up fences and dugouts that have now been there more than two decades. “That’s our field,” says Roberts. “It’s just a great place for a ballgame. Down the right field line it’s elevated and you’ve got the trees. There aren’t too many infields where the grass is any nicer. “Is it a perfect ball field? No. The outfield slopes down terribly low. On the infield, the first base side is a little bit higher.” With Lake Michigan less than 20 miles to the north, a howling wind seems to be a constant at the high school and the adjacent Washington Township Little League. One of the program’s biggest benefactors was rental company owner and baseball parent who died in an automobile accident on July 10. “Whatever I need for 15 years — a sod-cutter, Bobcat, you name it, he was delivering it at 5 o’clock,” says Roberts. “Everybody ought to have a friend like Jimmie Lawson.” Eric Lawson — oldest son of Jimmie and wife Karen — was an eighth graders when came in the summer donning striped soccer socks. “I liked the looks of them so we went to stirrups the very next year,” says Roberts, who also coached Eric’s brothers Stephen and Alex. Eric graduated from Washington Township and went on the earn a Purple Heart while serving in the U.S. Army. “Those stirrups mean something,” says Roberts. “We wear those now in tribute to the entire family.” Middle school baseball is played in the ball at Washington Township where they don’t have football. “It’s like a seven-week baseball camp (beginning in early August),” says Roberts. “They’re taught everything. We don’t teach anything different than we do the high school kids.” Roberts has three children — Max, Sophia and William. Max Roberts is a 2016 Valparaiso High School graduate who was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wabash Valley College (Mount Carmel, Ill.) by the Seattle Mariners. The 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher was selected in the minor league phase of the 2022 Rule 5 Draft by the Houston Astros and could start the 2023 season at Triple-A Sugar Land. William Roberts, a 6-foot-5 right-hander graduated from Washington Township in 2019 and pitched at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., in 2021 and 2022 and is now at Purdue Northwest.
Cody York, who is going into his second year as head baseball coach at Whitko Junior/Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., in 2023, has been around the sport in northeast Indiana most of his life. Born in Fort Wayne, he played in Holy Cross and Hamilton Park youth leagues and four years at North Side High School, where he graduated in 2008. His head coaches were Bruce Miller as a freshman and then Randy Moss for the next three years. “(Moss) had a huge impact on my life,” says York, 33. “He showed me how to compete on the baseball field and what it takes to be good at it.” North Side head football coach Casey Kolkman (now at Heritage) showed York what consistency looks like. “No matter what happened — good or bad — he stayed even-keeled,” says York of Kolkman. “His demeanor never wavered one way or another. “I take my style from (Moss and Kolkman).” York also played basketball for the North Side Redskins (now Legends). After high school, York played one season each at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., for head coach Keith Schreiber and Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne for Kip McWilliams and now is a heavy equipment operator for the City of Fort Wayne. York’s first season of baseball coaching was 2021 as Whitko assistant. Whitko (enrollment around 415) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tipppecanoe Valley and Wabash). The Wildcats are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Prairie Heights and Westview. Whitko won its lone sectional title in 2017. York’s 2023 coaching staff features varsity assistant Andrew Shepherd, junior varsity assistant Michael Ianucilli and volunteers Jacob Gable and Austin Roberson. The head coach got acquainted with his assistants through two Fort Wayne-based summer adult circuits (Carrington League and Men’s Senior Baseball League). Pitching coach Shepherd played at Wabash High School (Class of 2012), Ianucilli at Fort Wayne Concordia (Class of 2017), Gable at North Side (Class of 2015) and Roberson at Fort Wayne Snider (Class of 2012). York is also looking to hire a JV head coach. York helped coach middle school football at Whitko in the fall while his assistants ran IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions. This winter, Limited Contact Period practices have been from 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays and dedicated to throwing, hitting and weight training. With nine starters being freshmen or sophomores, the Wildcats went 9-18 in 2022. Shortstop David Ousley (Class of 2023) is scheduled to sign with the University of Saint Francis (Ind.) Thursday. Ousley was a team captain in ’22 along with Isaiah Cripe (Class of 2024). Ousley and Cripe are expected back along with Class of 2023’s Brent Bowers, Jaxon Harper and Cody Adkins, 2024’s Logan Hoffman and Max Platt and 2025’s Easton Grable, Riley Harman and Breyden Kirkdorffer. The Wildcats play home games on-campus. A year ago, Whitko got a new scoreboard. New dugouts and batting cages are being installed. York is also the program’s hitting coach and wants his players to get more repetitions while staying mechanically sound. “I’m very meticulous when I’m in the cage with them,” says York. Plans also call for replacing infield dirt and outfield warning tracks with red brick dust. As a feeder system for the high school, York has established a middle school team that will play games Monday through Wednesday in the spring of 2023 so it does not interfere with travel ball schedules. Cody York is engaged to Alisha Withered. The couple each have 10-year-olds from previous relationships.