By STEVE KRAH
Mike Werling sees a diamond in the rough.
The new head baseball coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) North Side High School knows there’s been tough times for the Legends and plenty of challenges lie ahead, but his is hopeful he can turn around a struggling program.
“It’s going to take time,” says Werling. “We’re going to take our licks (in 2023). I’m looking for commitment and improvement from day to day.
“We have the talent to compete. We might sneak up on people that overlook North Side this year. It could be a fun ride.”
The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period is in full swing and the Legends work out Mondays and Wednesdays at Carington Field, which is about four miles southeast of the school.
There are senior captain-led stretches, throwing projections with Tom Emanski drills, full infield/outfield cut-off work, drop-step drills for outfields and Pitchers Fielding Practice to name a few.
“We want to make sure kids know what they’re doing now so it’s not an issue in the spring,” says Werling, who is helped by assistant coaches Reggie Williams and Dezmond McNeilly.
Fort Wayne North Side (enrollment around 1,520) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead).
SAC games are played in home-and-home series and some Saturday doubleheaders.
“It’s a very big, very tough conference for baseball,” says Werling.
The Legends were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Columbia City, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead and Huntington North. North Side is seeking its first sectional title.
Hamilton Park Little League feeds the Legends program.
“There is a negative stigma for North Side baseball. It’s a matter of changing the culture and making the kids excited about wanting to come out there.”
Werling says having Williams as Hamilton Park Little League president will help spread the word and lift up Legends baseball in a positive light.
Two players from the Class of 2023 — righty-swinging shortstop/third baseman Gabriel Oliva and left-handed pitcher Christian Cox — have been getting looks for bigger colleges.
Welling, who took his new post at the end of August, was pitching coach at North Side 2019 to 2021 and was junior varsity coach at his alma mater — Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., in 2022.
Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer Dean Lehrman has been a head baseball coach for 43 seasons — nine at Woodlan and the past 34 at Heritage.
“Coach Dean is a special guy,” says Werling, who was a left-handed pitcher for Lehrman and graduated from Heritage in 2008 then at Ohio Northern University for one season and the Portland Rockets before a labrum injury caused him to stop. “There are mannerisms and ways about him he had then and nothing’s changed. They are the same drills and same workouts. He’s big on the little things and fundamentals. And there’s commitment.”
“My Dean Lehrman comes out all the time in practice. He’s built a very successful program in his time there. What he does works.”
Prior to coaching at North Side, Werling works 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays at Sauder Manufacturing in New Haven, Ind., where he drives a forklift.