Category Archives: Pro

Former scout Trcka signed Hall of Famer Rolen, several other big leaguers

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Rolen, who was a standout at Jasper (Ind.) High School and for 17 Major League Baseball seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays, will be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer.
July 23 is the big induction day.
The man who signed the future Hall of Famer who was selected in the second round of the 1993 MLB First-Year Player Draft is also a Hoosier.
Hobart’s Scott Trcka was an area scout with the Phillies when he secured Rolen.
“I followed him all summer,” says Trcka, who saw Rolen play multiple times and became friendly with his family. “I did all the leg work. I did all the (research on) make-up and signability.”
The popular theory in the scouting world was that Rolen would pursue his hoops option instead of baseball.
“Indiana’s a basketball heaven,” says Trcka. “Both of his parents (Ed and Linda) were teachers. He had a scholarship for basketball at (the University of) Georgia.
“(Other scouts) didn’t think he would sign. I had a handshake. It was a tough negotiation. It was a long summer. But it got done.
“He was not like a $1,000 college senior. He was a high school player and you needed to spend some time on him.”
It was a different environment three decades years ago.
“Today they’d walk away from a guy like that or drop a ton of money on him,” says Trcka. “Compared to the player he is, I gave him nothing. I gave him fair money for the round and the place. I didn’t over do it.
“It was a trust thing.”
At Jasper, Rolen was a third baseman, shortstop and pitcher.
“He had a fastball he could pump up to 93 (mph),” says Trcka. “He showed his arm strength then and all it did was improve. When he got up to the big leagues he had a rocket.
“With his arm and his agility he could’ve played shortstop in the big leagues.”
Track notes that average major league runner gets down down the line from the plate to first base in 4.3 seconds. Rolen was clocked in 4.01.
“That’s flying — especially for a big man.” says Trcka of player who was 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds in the majors. “He had pretty good instincts on the bases. He’d take that extra bag.
“He was a special guy.”
Rolen went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2019 and is now Director of Player Development at Indiana University.
In a New York Times article by Tyler Kepner dated Jan. 24, 2023, Trcka is credited with Dick Lawlor and Marti Wolever as scouts that recommended Rolen to former Phillies scouting director Mike Arbuckle.
Like so many relationships he made in 27-plus years as an MLB scout, Trcka enjoyed the one he made with Rolen’s parents. He still gets Christmas cards from them and still hears from players, families, coaches and other scouts.
“It was a great game,” says Trcka. “I loved it. Even though the job did take me away from the family, I couldn’t ask for a job that I enjoyed more.”
In various capacities Trcka scouted for the Phillies 1989-2001 and 2013-16, San Diego Padres 2002-05 and New York Mets 2006-12.
He covered winter ball in the Dominican Republic from 1998-2001. In 2005, he was assigned four MLB teams in spring training along with 24 minor league teams during the season. In 2007, he spent two weeks covering pro baseball in Japan.
“It was a good job,” says Trcka. “I enjoyed my time. I met a lot of great people. If you were to tell me I’d have access to go into major league clubhouses and things like that when I was a kid, I would probably lose my marbles and couldn’t wait to grow up.
“I signed a lot of big leaguers. That was the biggest thrill.”
Besides Rolen, Trcka also signed the following MLB players as an area supervisor: Steve Parris (1989, fifth round), Gary Bennett (1990, 11th), Mike Grace (1991, 10th), Tony Fiore (1992, 28th), David Doster (1993, 27th), Kevin Sefcik (1993, 33rd), Jason Boyd (1994, eighth) and Kevin Plawecki (2012, first, 35th overall selection).
New Haven (Ind.) High School graduate Doster played mostly second base at Indiana State University and in the bigs and Japan.
Westfield (Ind.) High School alum Plawecki was a catcher at Purdue University and played his eighth MLB season in 2022.
As a crosschecker, Trcka recommended Pat Burrell, Jason Michaels, Jorge Padilla, Brett Myers, Marlon Byrd, Gavin Floyd, Khalil Greene, Tim Stauffer, Colt Morton, Dirk Hayhurst and Aaron Nola.
The first time Trcka saw LaTroy Hawkins he was a lanky freshman at Gary (Ind.) West Side High School.
“He was a good kid,” says Trcka. “I really liked him. He had a whip for an arm. You knew he was going to be pretty good.
“He turned out to be a real gem.”
Hawkins went on to pitch 21 seasons in the majors and went in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 2018.
Trcka helped fellow scout Bill Bryk conduct tryout camps for the Pittsburgh Pirates in northwest Indiana.
It was during the change toward more analytics and less traditional scouting that Trcka was let go by the Phillies.
“Everything has changed now,” says Trcka. “Baseball people don’t run the game anymore.
“It was once a great game, but it’s far from that anymore. Statistical information doesn’t tell what a real player is about inside.”
Not that Trcka ignored the numbers.
When scouting college players, he always sought out the press box and found the stat sheet.
He wanted to know how many times a batter struck out or walked and how many stolen bases a player had.
“Doubles were always big,” says Trcka. “Doubles can show what the future holds for you as far as home run power.
“We looked at all that stuff. All scouts did that. Not just me.”
What about WAR (Wins Above Replacement)?
“I don’t know how to do it and I don’t want to know,” says Trcka. “It was a different time. I know you’ve got to move with the times, but when something’s not broke don’t fix it.”
In recent years, Trcka has been focused on his family including grandchildren.
When he happened to be watching a game on TV and saw a batter make the last out in one inning and start on second base in extra innings, he was introduced to what commonly is called the “ghost runner.”
“What’s going on in this game?,” says Trcka. “They’re doing a fine job of trying to destroy the game.
“It’s a sad commentary.”
The son of Dick and Joan Trcka, Scott spent his first three years of high school at Hobart and his senior year at Calumet, graduating in 1976.
As a Warrior, Trcka played for his father and against future big league slugger Ron Kittle, who was a senior at Gary Wirt High School.
Dick Trcka spent 28 years in a variety of coaching roles at Calumet and won more than 200 games as head baseball coach. The field at what is now Calumet New Tech bears his name.
Scott Trcka was Director of Player Personnel and Development for the summer collegiate wood bat Northwest Indiana Oilmen in 2019.

Scott Trcka.

Britton explains importance of body language in baseball

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Phil Britton was attending the Culture & Leadership Hot Stove at the 2023 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Nashville when Jerry Weinstein began talking about body language.
As the ABCA Hall of Famer spoke, a slide went up which read: Body Language Is The #1 Form Of Communication. “What You Do Speaks So Loudly I Can’t Hear What You Say.” Immediate Attention Away From The Group.”
“When you’re trying to be competitive and put together a good ball club it starts with your values and what you’re trying to achieve,” says Britton, who played college and professional baseball, runs a training business in southern Illinois and southern Indiana and coaches travel ball. “It’s a lot easier to achieve those things when you don’t have to coach body language.
“Don’t get me wrong. The game’s hard and everybody gets down. But if you’re recruiting Player A and Player B and they’re both really talented and have the same skill set but one has body language that communicates that they can handle defeat and the other one has the shrugged shoulders, eye rolls and the stuff that really projects bad energy you’re going to select the player that doesn’t have that.
“If you’ve got those guys on your team it’s going to be a long year. It comes down to what kind of player am I — the one who pouts or the one who says ‘I’m going to get the next one.’”
Britton graduated from 2003 graduate of East Richland High School in Olney, Ill. (now consolidated into Richland County High School), where he played for Andy Julian of Newburgh, Ind., spent two seasons under National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Famer Dennis Conley at Olney Central College and turned down an offer from the University of Kentucky to go pro. The catcher was in the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles organizations and with the independent league Fargo (N.D.)-Moorhead (Minn.) Red Hawks and Evansville (Ind.) Otters. He has been on the Otters coaching staff of manager Andy McCauley since 2012.
As his playing career was winding down, he started Britton’s Bullpen in Olney and has expanded to Indiana locations in Boonville and Fort Branch.
“I’m always watching body language,” says Britton. “I try to see what my body language is. If somebody strikes out in a big spot, how am I handling myself? Am I moping in the dugout or the third base coach’s box?”
As a manager, Britton wants to project a confident, stoic approach.
“I’m not sure how many kids understand (body language),” says Britton. “Everybody’s got body language. Your body speaks way bigger than your words. You can tell when somebody’s up. You can tell when somebody’s down.
“It’s difficult for a team to continually progress if you’ve got guys with bad body language. It’s a sign that they don’t want to be there. Why would you want somebody that doesn’t want to be there?”
Britton says players can’t project poor body language and be ready for the next play.
“If you’re putting yourself in position to make a play and you don’t make the play that’s not a bad inning that’s just not making a play. There’s a humungous difference.
“I can handle guys not making plays. That will never bother me. Not being in position will.”
Southern Smoke Baseball will field 8U, 11U and 13U teams out of Fort Branch and 12U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U out of Olney in 2023. Britton facilitates off-season workouts for Illinois teams, pops in with the younger teams and is a manager for the older squads.
He has an understanding with his players.
“Don’t mistake my intensity for getting after you,” says Britton. “The only time I’ll (do that) is if you’ve got it coming. By that I mean you’re a poor sport and showing up your teammates.
“I’m not going chew somebody’s tail just because they didn’t make a play.”
Britton expects his players to learn the game.
“We play half the season without base coaches and we do that to force kids to run with their heads up and make their own decisions,” says Britton. “There are some parents that are rubbed the wrong way. They want their kids to be coached every single play and they’re not learning anything. They’d be learning less with us controlling them.
“When you’ve got a kid crossing the road you want them to just put their head down and tell them it’s OK. Eventually they have to cross the road on their own with no one telling them.”
Britton, 38, was raised “old school” and spent a lot of time helping his grandfather. When he set his grandson for a tool, he didn’t ask where it was he just found it.
“You figured it out,” says Britton. “That’s how I grew up.”
It was this approach that Britton took into high school baseball.
“Coach Julian challenged me,” says Britton. “I was that player who needed someone to get up into my personal space and challenge me and Andy did a real good job of that.
“I wanted to be the best player everywhere I went.”
Jim Baker, who was from nearby Sumner, Ill., and pitched at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., and in Triple-A in the Toronto Blue Jays system, was an encouragement to Britton.
“I respected him because he was where I wanted to be,” says Britton. “He said to me, ‘you’ve got some tools. Keep working your tail off.’”
Growing up poor and rural, Britton did not have brand new equipment. He got the old gear left over when the youth league was cleaning out the closet.
When he was a high school freshman, he and a friend entered a radio contest. The 95th caller won Bruce Springsteen tickets. Britton won the contest, sold the seats to a teacher who was a fan of “The Boss” and took the money to buy his first set of new catcher’s gear.
In his two seasons at Olney Central, Britton hit .426 with 15 home runs and a nation-leading 89 runs batted in and .430 with 10 homers and earned NJCAA All-American honors while playing for veteran coach Conley.
“People who know baseball understand just how valuable the guy is,” says Britton of Conley, who has led the Blue Knights for more than 40 years. “I can’t thank Coach Conley enough for holding me accountable.”
Britton came to campus not recruited by other places and 160 pounds, won the starting catching job and caught all games in the spring, including doubleheaders on Saturdays and bullpens between games.
“You’ll find out what you’re made of in a heart beat. That’s why Coach Conley’s the best. He is going to challenge you.”
He was going to be a Conley assistant when he turned his attention to building his own business, which now has Josh Wetzel and (former Castle High School player) Conner Porter leading things at Boonville and (former Indianapolis North Central High School and Indiana University catcher and current Otters hitting coach) Bobby Segal and Matt Racinowski at Fort Branch. Britton’s Bullpen also trains softball players.
“The end goal has been to help as many players as we can,” says Britton.
McCauley was in his first season as Otters manager when Britton came in at the all-star break in 2011. Bill Bussing has been the team’s owner since 2001.
“There’s nobody better than Mr. Bussing when it comes to independent baseball,” says Britton. “He cares about his people.
“That guy is there to help anybody he can help. He’s there to set a good example. We have got an extremely short leash in Evansville. We’ve got to bring in high-character dudes. If we swing and miss, you move on down the road.
“The guy at the top sets the standard. That’s true anywhere you go. Mr. Bussing is our standard.”
Britton credits the ABCA — the largest organization dedicated to baseball coaches in the world — to saving his coaching career.
“Getting a change to hear Patrick Murphy, Augie Garrido, Ken Ravizza and Matt Deggs — you talk about some very humbling individuals,” says Britton. “There is so much to learn than what I know.”
Britton’s Bullpen is on Facebook and Instagram and has a YouTube channel.

Body language is important in baseball as American Baseball Coaches Association Convention attendee Phil Britton will attest.
Phil Britton bumps fists with Southern Smoke Baseball travel players.
Phil Britton. (Evansville Otters Photo)

Samardzija chooses baseball over football, makes majors, IHSBCA Hall of Fame

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.

Jeff Samardzija. (San Francisco Giants Photo)
One of Jeff Samardzija’s career stops was with the Chicago White Sox.

LaPlaca champion for sports vision training

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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:

Dr. Joe LaPlaca.
Dr. Joe LaPlaca.

IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Johnston was in professional baseball for six decades

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Lenny “Lefty” Johnston was part of the professional baseball for six decades.
Born in Pontiac, Mich. on March 15, 1928, and graduated as a football, basketball and baseball standout from Arthur Hill High School (Saginaw, Mich.) and football and baseball star at Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo), Johnston was signed by the Chicago White Sox by Johnny Mostil and Doug Minor in 1952.
Johnston stole 325 bases and led his league in stolen bags for six consecutive seasons (1953-58).
He was The Sporting News Minor League Rookie of the Year for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox of the Western League in 1953.
In 1956 — his second of 12 Triple-A seasons — Johnston led the International League with 182 hits for the Richmond Virginians.
The last seven of his 15 minor league campaigns as a player was spent with the Indianapolis Indians (1960-66). The Indians won championships in 1961 (American Association), 1962 (American Association) and 1963 (International League South). Johnston was a player-coach in his last two seasons.
At 35, hit .316 and finished second in batting in 1964. He smacked four home run and drove in 67 runs in 127 games.
A lefty swinging and throwing outfielder, Johnston hit .304 in 76 games with the 1960 Indianapolis team managed by Johnny Hutchings and Ted Beard. The Indians were then a Philadelphia Phillies farm team.
He hit .297 in 113 games for the Cot Deal-managed 1961 Indians (then a Cincinnati Reds affiliate).
In 1962, Indianapolis was part of the Chicago White Sox system and the ties remained through Johnston’s career in Indy. He hit .270 with 45 runs batted in over 113 games for a ’62 team managed by Luke Appling (who went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964).
Rollie Hemsley skippered the 1963 Indians and Johnston hit .262 with four home runs and 30 RBIs in 115 games.
Les Moss managed the 1964 Indians to a second place finish in the Pacific Coast League East.
Johnston hit .206 in 81 games for the 1965 Indians (fourth in the PCL East). George Noga was the manager.
Moss was back as manager in 1966. Johnston hit .251 in 94 games and the Tribe placed third in the PCL East.
Among his other managers are Hobart, Ind., native Everett Robinson plus Don Gutteridge, Danny Murtaugh, Eddie Lopat and Rube Walker.
Johnston will be enshrined in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame during the IHSBCA State Clinic Jan. 12-14 at Sheraton at Keystone Crossing in Indianapolis. The Hall of Fame and awards banquet is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 13 at the Sheraton. Other inductees will be Kelby Weybright, Drew Storen, Jeff Samardzija and the late Wayne Johnson.
For questions about banquet reservations, program advertisements or events leading up to the ceremony, contact Hall of Fame chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899.
Banquet tickets can be purchased at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3%20_2023IHSBCAStateClinic and can be picked up from Jeff on the night of the banquet at the registration table. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
“Lefty” Johnston married for the second time in Indianapolis and had two sons — David and Danny (who is now caregiver for his 93-year-old father in Nashville, Tenn.).
Johnston had three children from a previous marriage in Michigan and had three older children — Tommy, Janie and Kim. In total, he has five children, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
According to Danny Johnston, his father “loves Florida and loved coaching there.
“He also loved Bluefield, Va., where he spent part of three decades with the Bluefield Orioles coaching, mentoring and coordinating.”
As a national cross-checker scout “Lefty” was responsible for Tito Landrum coming to the Orioles.
Landrum hit the homer that gave Baltimore the lead in Game 4 of the 1983 ALCS and the O’s eventually made it to the World Series. 
“He was proud to have been a part of that,” says Danny Johnston.
He resided in Indianapolis for 50 years during the winters and helped sell season tickets for the Indians and was a substitute teacher and sold insurance for Lincoln National Life.
Johnston has been inducted into both Western Michigan’s Football Hall of Fame and Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2010, “Lefty” received the Herb Armstrong Award for his contributions to baseball and the organization, and he was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame.
Johnston went into the Appalachian League Hall of Fame in 2020.

Lenny “Lefty” Johnston. (Baltimore Orioles Photo)

Gries cherishes memories of coaching at Evansville Central, Tri-State Hot Stove League

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.”

Paul Gries.
Paul Gries at the Tri-State Hot Stove League “Night of Memories.”

IHSBCA Hall of Fame to induct Weybright, Storen, Samardzija, Johnston, Johnson in ’23

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coach Kelby Weybright, players Drew Storen and Jeff Samarzija and veterans committee selections Lenny “Lefty” Johnston and Wayne Johnson make up the 2023 induction class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Weybright is a graduate of North White High School. Following graduation, he attended and played baseball for three years at Blackburn College before earning his bachelor degree from Indiana University.
Following one season as an assistant at North White, Weybright spent six seasons as an assistant and 11 seasons as the head coach at Norwell High School where he compiled a record of 243-93 with two NHC, seven sectional, four regional and two semistate titles with an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2006 and 3A state championships in 2003 and 2007 before retiring in 2012 to coach his sons in travel baseball.
The 2007 team went 35-0 and finished ranked 10th nationally (Collegiate Baseball/Easton Sports). The 2006 and 2007 squads went a combined 64-2.
Weybright coached 22 players that played collegiately with six IHSBCA North All-Stars and four Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections.
Two NHC Coach of the Year honors (2006 and 2007) came Weybright’s way as well as two IHSBCA Coach of the Year awards (2003 and 2007).
He was recognized as a National High School Baseball Coaches Association District and National Coach of the Year in 2007.
Weybright is currently athletic director at Norwell and continues to work with the baseball program during its summer development period and occasionally during the season as time permits.

Storen is a 2007 graduate of Brownsburg High School.
As a freshman, he was the No. 2 pitcher (3-0, 1.17 earned run average) behind Lance Lynn on the eventual 2004 state runner-up.
As a sophomore, right-hander Storen went 9-0 with 86 strikeouts in 57 innings and helped the Bulldogs to go 35-0 and win the 2005 state championship while earning a No. 2 ranking in the country from Baseball America.
The Indianapolis Star called that team, “The greatest high school team in Indiana history.”
For his career, Storen finished 28-2 with 270 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.61. At the plate, he hit .400 with 16 home runs.
He was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2007, but attended Stanford University.
In two seasons with the Cardinal, he was named to three Freshman All-American teams and was twice chosen first team All-Pac 12. He got the win in Game 1 of the 2008 College World Series.
Storen led Stanford as a sophomore in saves, wins and appearances and was named team MVP for 2009.
He finished his collegiate career with a 12-4 record, 26 saves, 59 appearances and a 3.84 ERA.
As a draft-eligible sophomore, Storen was taken by the Washington Nationals as the 10th overall pick of the 2009 MLB Draft.
In eight seasons with the Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds, he went 29-18 with 99 saves, a 3.45 ERA and 417 strikeouts. He made six postseason appearances for Washington in 2012 and 2014 with one win and one save.
Drew and his wife Brittani currently reside in Carmel and have two boys — Jace (6) and Pierce (2).

Samardzija is a 2003 Valparaiso High School graduate is considered one of the best athletes in Indiana history.
By his senior year, he was recognized as one of the state’s best football players and was the runner-up for the Indiana Mr. Football award. Samardzija was a three-time all-state player and was selected to the Indiana All-Star team.
In baseball, he was a runner-up for the Mr. Baseball award as a senior, a three-year varsity letterman and an All-State honoree as a center fielder. He hit .375 with five home runs and 37 runs batted in as a junior and .481 with eight homers and 50 RBIs as a senior.
As one of the nation’s top football recruits, he chose Notre Dame where he was also invited to pitch for the baseball team.
Samardzija was a two-time All American wide receiver, a two-time All-American pitcher and a two-time runner up for the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s best receiver.
Despite his football skills and the likelihood of being drafted as a first-round pick in the National Football League, Samardzija opted to play professional baseball after pitching for the Irish for three seasons.
The right-hander was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB Draft. He made his MLB debut for the Cubs in July 2008 and went on to pitch 13 full seasons.
In addition to the Cubs, Samardzija pitched for the Oakland Athletics (2014), Chicago White Sox (2015) and San Francisco Giants (2016-2020). He was named an All-Star in 2014.
Jeff and older brother Sam represent a rare achievement in VHS history with each being selected as All-State performers in both football and baseball.

Johnston graduated from Western Michigan University and was a minor league outfielder from 1952-67.
He played for the Indianapolis Indians from 1960-1966 and played in the
Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators organizations.
He was a career .286 hitter and had 525 stolen bases. He led his league in stolen bases six straight years (1953-58). He paced the International League in 1956 with 182.
Johnston was a minor league manager for nine years and was the with the Bluefield Orioles in the Appalachian League and the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., in an administrative role.
In 2020, he was inducted into the Appalachian League Hall of Fame. Johnston served as a scout, scouting supervisor, cross-checker and minor league coordinator roles before retiring in 2019. He currently resides in Nashville, Tenn.

Wayne Johnson spent 12 years as a varsity assistant to Greg Silver at Mooresville before spending two stints as the head coach at Brownsburg High School.
At the helm of the Bulldog program, he compiled 278 wins over 15 years.
During his first stint from (1987-2000), Johnson-led teams took home sectional championships in 1988, 1992, 1995 and 1996. The Bulldogs were also regional champions in 1996.
Then on short notice, Johnson was asked to return to coach Brownsburg in 2011 and won another sectional title.
While Johnson’s victories and championships are impressive, his contributions to Brownsburg baseball far exceed his won/loss record.
The 1990 Central Suburban Athletic Conference Coach of the Year was instrumental in the construction of Brownsburg’s home baseball field — Mary Beth Rose Park.
Johnson partnered with countless members of the community to design and build the stadium and it has served to host over a 1,000 games since the spring of 1988.
Rose Park is still considered a premier location to play baseball in Indiana.
Johnson was a big supporter of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame and it fundraising efforts.
He also owned a business, Johnson Sports Collectibles in addition to teaching for 39 years at Mooresville and Brownsburg High Schools. Johnson impacted many lives through the game of baseball and his presence is sorely missed. He is being inducted posthumously as he passed away on Dec. 19, 2018.

Inductees will be honored during the IHSBCA State Clinic. The ceremony is slated for 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, 2023 at Sheraton at Keystone Crossing. The clinic is Jan. 12-14.
For questions about banquet reservations, program advertisements or events leading up to the ceremony, contact Hall of Fame chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899.
Banquet tickets can be purchased at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3%20_2023IHSBCAStateClinic and can be picked up from McKeon on the night of the banquet at the registration table. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

2023 IHSBCA Hall of Fame class. (Graphic by Dan Hardy Hill)

Pro pitching career takes Strobel to Canada, Mexico

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An American shined in Canada and got the chance to play in Mexico.
That’s the story of Tasker Strobel’s 2022 as a professional baseball pitcher.
Strobel, a graduate of Avon (Ind.) High School (2013) and Saint Joseph’s College (2017), spent the spring and summer with the independent/MLB Partner League American Association’s Winnipeg Goldeyes.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound left-hander performances for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats against Winnipeg in 2021 made Goldeyes manager/pitching coach Rick Forney want Strobel in 2022.
The 27-year-old southpaw was given a chance to compete for the closer role, landed it and made 53 appearances (all in relief) and went 2-3 with 21 saves (second in the AA to the 23 for Fargo-Moorhead’s Alex DuBord) and a 3.41 earned run average. Strobel racked up 58 strikeouts with 21 walks in 55 1/3 innings.
“(Forney) was good for my career,” says Strobel. “If you were doing well he let you ride and do your own thing.”
The longtime baseball man maintains connections South of the Border and had former Winnipeg slugger Kyle Martin play for Mayos de Navojoa of the Mexican Pacific League (Liga Mexicana del Pacífico or LMP in Spanish) in 2021-22.
Navojoa — managed by Homar Rojas — reached out saying they needed a closer for 2022-23. Strobel and his agent deemed it a good fit and he signed to compete in the 10-team league that has a 68-game regular season runs from October to December and is followed by a playoff series in January to determine the league champion and a berth in the Caribbean Series.
The way it was explained to Strobel, the winter league is essentially all-star teams from the 18-team Mexican League (which runs from April to August) with a few imports mixed in among native Mexicans.
Mayos teammates include three players from the 2022 American Association season — infielder Grant Kay (Chicago Dogs), pitcher Max Kuhns (Sioux City Explorer) and outfielder Zach Nehrir (Cleburne Railroaders).
Through Mexican Pacific League games of Nov. 1, Strobel had finished seven games and was 0-0 with four saves, 4.26 ERA, four strikeouts and one walk in 6 1/3 innings.
What makes a closer in Strobel’s eyes?
“You’ve got to be a little crazy and have that mindset of getting everyone out,” says Strobel. (The other team is) not going to score a run on you.
“You have to lock it in. You can’t miss a spot with any pitch, especially the American Association.”
Throwing from a low three-quarter arm slot, Strobel employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and change-up.
His four-seamer sits at 90 to 91 mph and has been up to 94. His curve has more of a sweeping action that his slider, which is tighter and faster.
“I have two sliders that vary depending on counts and batters,” says Strobel. “I throw a class ‘circle’ change.”
While in Mexico, Strobel is working to learn the basics of Spanish.
“I took German in high school,” says Strobel, who is expanding his vocabulary with online lessons. He also uses Google Translate extensively.
Tasker was born in Overland Park, Kan., and moved to Indiana at 4. The oldest of Chris and Janelle Strobel’s two sons (2017 Avon graduate Spencer Strobel is a super senior lefty pitcher at Indiana Tech) grew up in Avon and went from rec ball to travel ball as soon as he could with the Hendricks County Hurricanes.
In high school, Tasker played with the Indiana Bulls and Jeff Mercer Sr.
Strobel’s varsity coach at Avon High was Troy Drosche. The Orioles pitching coach then was Bob McPike and Strobel also took lessons from former big leaguer Bill Sampen.
These days, Strobel helps Drosche with his high school and Indiana Bulls teams when he is able.
His two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. (2014 and 2015) are what Strobel calls “one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Kevin Bowers was — and still is the Statemen’s head coach. Max Hudson coached pitchers in 2014 and Kyle Medley led them in 2015.
“It was literally baseball and school,” says Strobel. “It was about being a JUCO Bandit and I loved it.”
That diamond chapter was followed up by two campaigns with head coach/pitching coach Rick O’Dette at NCAA Division II Saint Joe.
“I love that guy,” says Strobel of Coach O. “He led me into how I think about pitching now.
“We would sometimes butt heads, but we were a good pairing.”
Strobel was a SJC senior in 2017 — the year the school closed and the Pumas program went with it.
That spring, Strobel made 14 appearances (13 starts) and was 7-3 with three complete games, a 3.17 ERA and 68 strikeouts and 30 walks in 88 innings. As a junior, he hurled in 12 games (nine starts) and went went 4-4 with a 4.53 ERA with 57 strikeouts and 13 walks in 57 2/3 innings.
Business degrees were earned from both Lincoln Trail and Saint Joseph’s.
The lefty began his professional career in 2017 with seven appearances for the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers.
Strobel had Tommy John surgery on his elbow at the end of 2017 and did not play in 2018. As soon as he was cleared, he began training at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., and still goes there in the off-season to work with Greg Vogt and Anthony Gomez and to coach other pitchers.
Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development — both at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. — also employed Strobel during his time away from playing the game.
With the independent Utica, Mich.-based United Shore Professional Baseball League’s 2020 Westside Woolly Mammoths, the lefty played in 10 games (nine in relief) with no decisions, a 3.97 ERA, 18 strikeouts and four walks in 11 1/3 innings.
Strobel pitched parts of 2019 and 2021 with the Greg Tagert-managed RailCats, getting into 34 games and going 3-5, a 3.84 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 21 walks in 70 1/3 innings.
Strobel, who is contracted to return to Winnipeg in 2023, wasn’t the only Indiana native in the 2022 Goldeyes bullpen.
Right-hander Zac Ryan, an Andrean High School graduate and former Georgia Tech pitcher drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2017 and released in 2021, made 32 appearances (all in relief) for Winnipeg in 2022. He was 2-1 with a 3.72 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 16 walks in 29 innings.

Tasker Strobel. (PRP Baseball Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Mayos de Navojoa Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Winnipeg Goldeyes Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Winnipeg Goldeyes Photo)

Wherever he goes, Smith takes a big piece of Elkhart with him

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ron Smith’s career has taken him away from his hometown.
A 1974 graduate of Elkhart (Ind.) Memorial High School, he played baseball and basketball at Furman (S.C.) University, coached basketball at Miami University-Middletown (Ohio) and Middletown High School and was head baseball coach for 23 years at Furman, resigning after the 2016 season and still resides in the Palmetto State.
“I love South Carolina,” says Smith, who is in both the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame. “But Elkhart will always be my home.”
It was as a first grader that Smith began playing baseball at the City With A Heart’s Hawthorne Little League. He lived about two blocks away from Pierre Moran Park, wandered up one day and was on a team the next.
After that came Studebaker Park and Babe Ruth League at Elkhart FOP Park.
“We had good coaches throughout,” says Smith. “It was a great experience.
“I was so fortunate to grow up in Elkhart.”
It was also in elementary school that Smith learned from a coach that at his size he had better develop both hands as a basketball player.
“I really took that to heart,” says Smith, who shined on the court for head coaches Keith Dougherty (Elkhart), Jim Powers (Elkhart Memorial) and Joe Williams (Furman).”
The year before starting at Furman, Williams guided Jacksonville and Artis Gilmore to the NCAA championship game against UCLA.
On the prep diamond, Smith played three years for Dick Siler — one at Elkhart and two at Memorial.
“I took a little bit from all of those people,” says Smith. “Their influence was certainly impactful for me.”
Smith was the starting shortstop in his sophomore season of 1972. Steered Siler, Elkhart won the Elkhart Sectional and South Bend Regional and bowed 3-0 to eventual semistate champion Hammond Morton in the semifinals of the South Bend Semistate.
The following year Elkhart split into two schools.
“I think we would have been a state championship team the next year,” says Smith. “But instead we split. Central and Memorial had two pretty good teams. But they did not have the pitching depth to be really good.”
Smith says he would have loved playing as a teammate of Tom Calhoun instead of trying to fight through a Tom Eastman pick while guarding Calhoun in crosstown Memorial-Central rivalry basketball games.
Beginning with the fall of 2020, athletic teams in Elkhart began playing as one and were called the Lions. The town again has one high school.
“I was very happy to see a united Elkhart,” says Smith, who attended a few Lions football game with great nephew Quinn Rost (Class of 2025) as sophomore quarterback. “It’s really neat.”
Smith is uncle to Jacquie Rost, who is head volleyball coach and an athletic director at Elkhart and married to head baseball coach Scott Rost.
“I’m so proud of her and Scott,” says Smith. “(Class of 2021’s Dylan and Quinn) are the kind of boys I would love to have on my team.
“They are ‘team’ guys.”
Teachers — like Coe Strain — were also helpful to Smith along his journey.
An ardent follower of sports, Mrs. Strain got choir singer Smith involved in drama.
“I was probably the only athlete involved in the first musical,” says Smith. “But my senior year there were five or six.
“I developed an appreciation. The teamwork that is required for a drama production or a musical is very similar to that in the athletic endeavor.
“Everybody has to execute. Everybody has a part to play.”
Smith, a three-year letterwinner in tennis, basketball and baseball, earned the Tim Bringle Memorial Award as Elkhart’s top senior male athlete in 1974.
He was at Furman when he was selected in the ninth round of the 1977 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent parts of five seasons in the Phillies system, including five a Triple-A. The first few years he was still playing basketball at Furman during the winter.
After leaving college in his senior year, Smith went to spring training in Clearwater, Fla., with hopes of making the Double-A team in Reading, Pa.
“I had a good spring and felt good about things,” says Smith, who was one of 175 minor leaguers competing for 125 roster slots on five teams. “They called me in and said you really did but we like this Ryne Sandberg. I said, ‘Sandberg can’t make the play in the hole’ — which is true — but they moved him to second base and he had a Hall of Fame career.”
Smith also spent time playing behind future long-time major leaguer Julio Franco while also sitting near the manager when he was not in the game.
“I listened and learned,” says Smith.
When he was released as a player, Smith accepted an offer to manage the Phillies team in Helena, Mont., in 1982.
“I think I was the youngest manager in all of professional baseball,” says Smith.
When a new ownership/front office regime came to Philadelphia, Smith was among those to be let go.
“That was fine,” says Smith. “I was really into coaching basketball.
“I was ready to get out (of baseball).”
Then came the opportunity to possibly coach baseball at Furman.
Smith was enjoying his time at Middletown High when he was having a conversation with a mentor about his situation.
“He said — first of all what does your wife want to do?,” says Smith. “Then think about this: How many (NCAA) Division I baseball programs are there in the country? How many high school basketball jobs are there?”
In 23 seasons, he won 580 games with a Southern Conference championship in 2005.
This at a school with high tuition and far less than the limit of 11.7 scholarships.
“Furman is an expensive school,” says Smith. “It was hard to compete.
“But I feel like we got as much out of our players as anyone. As a coach, you want to see them improve individually. As a team, you want them to have that synergy — that something that allows them to achieve beyond the individual components that they have because of their working together.
“That is the most rewarding thing as a coach.”
Upon taking over the program, Smith had four goals: graduate on time, grow up (develop as a person), get better (improve on the field) and win championships.
“We faithfully stayed with that approach and as a result we had a tremendous graduation rate
anybody who stayed for four years graduated,” says Smith. “I’m so proud of the players that came out of the program — really fine young men, successful family men and good people.”
Ron’s wife — Elizabeth “Beth” Jordan Smith — died Oct. 25, 2021 at 58.
Forty five former players came from all over the country to Greenville to attend Beth Smith’s memorial service.
“It really meant a lot to me,” says Smith, 66. That validated my career in many ways.”
Since his wife’s passing, Smith has been taking some time for himself and has been able to travel and play golf with friends.
For the past three years, Smith has been a color commentator for Clemson (S.C.) University baseball home games shown on video
Smith’s approach is to comment on the game like he’s watching it on TV with a buddy
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Smith.
Not a rookie to broadcasting before the Clemson gig, Smith was a radio color commentator for Furman basketball for six years.
He’s also followed MLB.
“I’m glad they’re going to have a time clock for pitching,” says Smith. “The games have gotten too long.”
While he sees why some teams are based around power, there is more to the game than the three-run bomb.
“I really enjoy some of that small-ball stuff that maybe people don’t appreciate nowadays,” says Smith. “I don’t think there’s a better game than baseball when the ball is in-play. There’s a lot of down time.
“But when the ball is hit, it’s just a perfect game.
If you field it cleanly, the guy is out by a step at first base.
“What’s more exciting than seeing a guy hit a ball in the right-center gap and trying to stretch it into a triple? It’s great.”
In May 2020, Furman announced the elimination of its baseball program.
“It’s in a state of limbo now,” says Smith of Paladins baseball. “The field still intact and still pretty well maintained.
“I’m hoping that in the near future it will be reinstated.”

Ron Smith. (Furman University Photo)

Fourteen candidates for IHSBCA Hall of Fame in ’23; ballot deadline Oct. 28

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association is looking to add to its Hall of Fame.
There are 14 men on the 2023 ballot.
Coaches up for consideration are Brian Jennings, Lea Selvey, Dean Lehrman, Gary Rogers, Kelby Weybright, Tim Terry, Kyle Kraemer and Dave Ginder.
Players/Contributors on the ballot include Wallace Johnson, Drew Storen, Dave Taylor, Bryan Bullington, Jeff Samardzija and A.J. Reed.
IHSBCA members may vote for up to four coaches and two players/contributors. Deadline for returning the ballot is Oct. 28. Inductees will be honored at the State Clinic Jan. 12-14, 2023 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

IHSBCA HALL OF FAME
2022 BALLOT
Coaches
Brian Jennings
(Retired)

A 1987 graduate of Whiting High School and 1991 graduate of Indiana State University, Jennings began his coaching career at Whiting in 1996 and moved to Griffith High School in 1999 (retiring in 2022). His teams won 14 sectional and four conference and made a trip to the state championship game in 2001, losing to Indianapolis Cathedral.
During his 27 years as a varsity coach, he won 448 games.
He is a four-time conference coach of the year and one-time district coach of the year. Forty players went on to play college baseball and four in pro ball, including 2019 first-rounder Kody Hoese (Los Angeles Dodgers), and seven were selected as North/South All-Stars.
He was served on numerous IHSBCA committees, coached in the 2012 North/South All-Star Series in Jasper and organized the 2016 games in Whiting. He has announced the IHSAA State Finals for several years on the IHSAA Champions Network via radio and television.
He is currently an assistant principal at Griffith and resides in Whiting with wife Luann. Brian has two stepchildren — Ashley and Steve.

Lea Selvey
(Retired)

A graduate of Redkey High School, University of Evansville (bachelor’s) and Ball State University (master’s), Selvey spent his entire career at Jay County — five years as an assistant and 34 as head coach (retiring in 2022) — and won 530 games with seven sectionals and three regionals.
His teams have won five Olympic Conference titles and he was named OC Coach of the Year three time. He also has an Allen County Athletic Conference crown to his credit. Selvey was a District Coach of the Year in 2019.
He has served the IHSBCA as president, a regional representative and been on numerous committees and been an All-Star assistant twice. He’s also been a Regional Coach of the Year.
Selvey has coached 14 All-Stars and had numerous players go on to college baseball with two being selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and two others playing independent pro ball and overseas pro baseball. He coached the 1992 NABF Topps Player of the Year.
Selvey started the junior high program at Jay County and has been active with the Summit City Sluggers travel organization for nine years. He has also been involved with cross country, boys basketball and girls basketball over the years.
Lea and wife Denise have three children (Josh, Kristen and Kyle (wife Leah) and currently teaches Science at Jay County High School.

Dean Lehrman
(Active)

A graduate of Heritage High School and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, Lehrman was a four-year baseball letterman in high school and pitched four years in college.
He has been a head baseball coach of 44 years — nine at Woodlan and 35 at Heritage (current). His teams have won 665 with 12 Allen County Athletic Conference titles along with eight sectionals, three regionals and one semistate.
There’s been three Final Four appearances and a state runner-up finish (2007). He’s an eight-time ACAC Coach of the Year. He’s also been a District Coach of the Year and twice been on the All-Star coaching staff.
He also coached football for 39 years, including six as head coach (40-26).
Dean and wife Janice have three children (Camryn, Derek and Ryne) and four grandchildren. Dean retired from teaching math at Heritage High School in 2020.

Gary Rogers
(Active)

A graduate of Merrillville High School and Huntington College, Rogers has been a head coach of 34 years — 32 at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers and two at Leo (current) with 513 wins. His Luers teams won four sectionals, one regional, one semistate and one state championship (2008).
He was the State Coach of the Year in 2008 and has twice been a District Coach of the Year. He has been on numerous IHSBCA committees and is very active in the Fort Wayne baseball community.
He was a volunteer assistant at Indiana Tech for many seasons, worked the Wildcat League for 33 years and is on the board of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association (he is an NEIBA Hall of Famer).

Kelby Weybright
(Retired)

A graduate of North White High School, he played three years at Blackburn College and earned a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University.
Following one season as a North White assistant, Weybright spent six seasons as an assistant and 11 as head coach at Norwell High School. There he compiled a record of 243-93 before retiring in 2012 to coach his sons in travel baseball.
His Norwell teams won two conference, seven sectional, four regional and two semistate titles. The Knights were Class 3A state champions in 2003 and 2007 and state runners-up in 2006. The 2006 and 2007 teams were a combined 64-2, including 35-0 in 2007 (the third unbeaten team during the IHSAA tournament era). That team finished No. 10 in the nation according to Collegiate Baseball/Easton Sports.
Weybright was IHSBCA 3A coach of the year in 2003 and 2007 and Northeast Eight Conference coach of the year in 2006 and 2007.
Twenty-two players went on to college baseball with six North/South All-Star Series selection (he was head coach in 2007 and series co-chair in Fort Wayne in 2011).
Four players were taken in the Major League Baseball draft with two making the big leagues.
Weybright has been on the IHSBCA executive council and served as the group’s president (2012-13). He remains active as a 3A poll voter.
He is currently athletic director at Norwell and continues to work with the baseball team occasionally during the season and the summer developmental period. He resides in Bluffton with wife Lisa, a teacher at Norwell Middle School. The couple has three children (Garrett, 23, Jacob, 20, and Maria, 19).

Tim Terry
(Active)

A graduate of Clinton High School and Indiana State University (bachelor’s and masters), Terry has been a baseball coach for 43 years — 41 as head coach — with 620 wins and eight sectionals. His teams have won 20 or more games 10 times and he has been a conference Coach of the Year on nine occasions.
He has twice been a District Coach of the Year, served as an IHSBCA All-Star coach twice and coaches several All-Staters and All-Stars. He’s been on many IHSBCA committees.
Terry played football, basketball and baseball at Clinton and baseball and Indiana State before an injury sidelined him.
He was a South Vermillion High School assistant in 1979 and 1981 and Turkey Run High School head coach in 1980. He became SVHS head coach in 1982.
He has also coached many Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth and travel ball teams. He’s been a varsity football coach for three years and girls basketball coach of 34. In three sports, he has 922 victories.
Terry was an Industrial Arts and Physical Education teacher and has been South Vermillion athletic director for the past six years.
Tim and wife Kim (an SVHS Science teacher) have four boys (T.J., Carlton, Cooper and Easton).

Kyle Kraemer
(Active)

A 1986 graduate of Terre Haute South Vigo High School, Kraemer was an IHSBCA first-team all-state selection as a senior and played in the North/South All-Star Series.
He played four years at Purdue University under IHSBCA Hall of Famer Dave Alexander. As a senior, he was team captain and led the Boilermakers with 10 home runs.
Kraemer will begin his 29th season as South Vigo in 2023. His record is 535-255-2. Coach K was also an assistant at Harrison (West Lafayette) in 1992 and South Vigo in 1993 and 1994. His first season leading the Braves was 1995.
Seventy-five players have gone on to the next level, including eight professionals. There have been 64 all-conference selections (42 Metropolitation Interscholastic Conference and 22 Conference Indiana). Eight players have been on the IHSBCA Academic All-State Team, 12 in the North/South All-Star Series and five IHSBCA first-team all-state.
He has coached teams to eight conference titles (six MIC and two CI) with 10 sectional and for regional crowns and two Final Four appearances. He was named MIC Coach of the Year six times and CI Coach of the Year twice.
Kraemer is an active IHSBCA member. He has been District M representative for more than 20 years and acted as hosted of the 2006 North/South Series. He was an assistant for the 2008 series. He has been on the South All-Star selection committee on numerous occasions. He has served as a 4A poll panelist the past seven years.
Kraemer teaches in the CTE department at South Vigo. Wife Valerie is a fourth grade teacher in Vigo County. The couple shares three children together — Koby Kramer (with wife Seyma), Ali Gonzalez (with husband Rigo) and Jacob Givens. There are also four grandchildren (Kali and Khali Kraemer and Liam and Leia Givens).

Dave Ginder
(Active)

A graduate of Carroll High School and Anderson University, Ginder is 426-147 in 20 seasons as Carroll head coach with seven Northeast Hoosier Conference, 11 sectional, four regional, two semistate and two state crowns (2010 and 2011).
He was the State Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2011, NHC Coach of the Year in 2003, 2011 and 2013 and a District Coach of the Year in 2007, 2010 and 2001.
Ginder is an active IHSBCA member, having served as an All-Star coach in 2011 and many years as a member of the 4A poll panel. He has also been involved in many local baseball camps and clinics and is member of the American Baseball Coaches Association and Northeast Indiana Baseball Association.
Dave and wife Kristen reside in Fort Wayne and have three children (Langston, 23, Drezdan, 21, and Jantzyn, 18). Dave teaches mat at Carroll High School and Kristen is a Registered Nurse at Parkview.

Players/Contributors
Wallace Johnson
(Retired)

A graduate of Gary Roosevelt High School (1975) and Indiana State University (1979), Wallace played for legendary coach Bob Warn at ISU and was co-captain on the Sycamores’ first Missouri Valley Conference championship team and first NCAA Tournament team.
Johnson led the nation in hitting (.502) that season and hit .422 for his college career. He was inducted into the ISU Hall of Fame in 1985.
Drafted in 1979 by the Montreal Expos, Johnson was a Florida State League MVP and helped Denver (1981) and Indianapolis (1986) and Triple-A championships. He made his MLB debut with the Expos in 1981 and became the team’s all-time leader in pinch hits (86).
For his big league career, Johnson hit .255 with five home runs and 59 runs batted in over 428 games. After his playing career, he was third base coach for the Chicago White Sox for five seasons.

Drew Storen
(Retired)

A 2007 graduate of Brownsburg High School, he played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil and was a key member of the 2005 undefeated state championship team which the Indianapolis Star deemed “the greatest high school team in Indiana history.”
He was the No. 2 pitcher behind Lance Lynn as the Bulldogs were also state runners-up in 2004. Storen was 26-2 in his high school career with a 1.61 earned run average and 270 strikeouts in 178 1/3 innings. He was all-state, academic all-state, a South all-star and a 34th round pick in the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
He played at Stanford University and was a two-time all-PAC-10 selection, going 12-4 with a 3.64 ERA and 15 saves, throwing mostly in a relief role. As a draft-eligible sophomore, he was chosen 10th overall for the Washington Nationals in 2009.
Storen enjoyed a nine-year career with the Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds. He went 29-18 with 99 saves. In 440 1/3 innings (all in relief), he struck out 417 and posted a 3.45 ERA. He pitched in two postseason series. He was 1-1 with a save against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 and 0-1 vs. the San Francisco Giants in 2014.
Drew and wife Brittani live in Indianapolis with two boys (Jace, 5, and Pierce, 2).

Dave Taylor
(Active)

A standout player at Southmont High School and Wabash College (where he was team captain), Taylor coached Little League, Babe Ruth, high school, AAU and American Legion ball.
During an AAU coaching stint in Florida he realized the level of travel baseball and how Indiana was underrepresented in this arena.
He formed the Indiana Bulls with the vision of providing Indiana high school players with the opportunity to pursue their college and MLB dreams. In 1992, the Bulls sponsored two games and Taylor coached the 18U squad with future big leaguers Scott Rolen and Todd Dunwoody.
He coached the Bulls four more seasons, served as president for 10 and officer for 20 and has been director since 1992.
More than 170 Bulls players have been drafted (12 in the first round) and over 300 have received NCAA Division I scholarships. The organization has 22 national titles and a professional staff that works 12 months a year. There are currently 25 teams ages 8U to 17U. Several are coached by former professionals who played for the Bulls.
Taylor resides in Brownsburg and is a leading insurance defense trail attorney, He has served 20 years as a certified Major League Baseball Players Association agent and represented more than 100 pro players. He continues to represent former players in various legal matters.

Bryan Bullington
(Retired)

A graduate of Madison Consolidated High School, Bullington was a two-sport athlete (basketball and baseball).
As a pitcher, he was 6-3 with 74 strikeouts as a sophomore in 1997, 10-1 with 1.69 earned run average and 65 strikeouts as a junior in 1998 and 15-0 with 1.49 ERA and 127 strikeouts as a senior in 1999.
He threw a one-hitter in helping Madison win a state championship in 1999 and was named Indiana Mr. Baseball by Hoosier Diamond. He was MVP of the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series and selected in the 37th round of the MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals.
Bullington opted to attend Ball State University. In three seasons he was 29-11. He was Mid-American Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and 2002.
When he left BSU, he held school records for single-season wins (11), career wins (29), single-season strikeouts (139) and career strikeout (357) and still holds MAC single-season and career strikeout marks. He was named to the BSU Hall of Fame in 2014.
Bullington, a 2001 U.S. National Team pitcher in 2001, was the No. 1 overall draft selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002. He’s just one of two Indiana players taken with the top pick.
He logged 12 pro seasons (missing 2006 because of a torn labrum) with a 61-38 record, 3.68 ERA and 602 strikeouts in seven minor league campaigns. In five seasons with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan, he was 46-48 with a 3.25 ERA and 550 strikeouts.
He pitched in 49 MLB games with the Pirates, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and Royals.
Bullington lives south of Chicago with his wife and three children and is a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Jeff Samardzija
(Retired)

A 2003 graduate of Valparaiso High School, Samardzija is considered one of the best athletes in Indiana state history.
He was runner-up for Indiana Mr. Football and a three-time all-stater and all-star in that sport.
In baseball, he was runner-up for Mr. Baseball as a senior and was a three-year varsity letterman, an all-state honoree and center fielder.
He hit .375 with five home runs and 37 runs batted in as a junior. As a senior, he hit .481 with eight homers and 50 RBIs.
Samardzija chose to play football at Notre Dame and was invited to pitch for the Irish. He was a two-time All-American wide receiver and two-time All-American pitcher. He was a two-time runner-up for the Biletnikoff Award as the the college football season’s outstanding FBS receiver.
Despite his football skills and the likelihood of being drafted as a first-round pick by the NFL, he opted to play baseball after pitching for the Irish for three seasons.
Samardzija was selected in the fifth round of the 2006 draft by the Chicago Cubs and made his MLB debut in July 2008. He alspo played for the Oakland Athletics (2014), Chicago White Sox (2015) and San Francisco Giants (2016-20). He was an American League all-star in 2014. His career record was 80-106 with a 4.15 ERA and 1,449 strikeouts. He pitched 13 full seasons at the MLB level.
Jeff and brother Sam represent a rate achievement in VHS history as all-state performers in both football and baseball.

A.J. Reed
(Retired)

A 2011 graduate of Terre Haute South Vigo High School, where he played for Kyle Kraemer, Reed was a three-time all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference honoree, first-team All-State (2010 and 2011) and Indiana High School Player of the Year (2011).
He was also an IHSBCA South All-Star and the series MVP. He is listed in the IHSBCA record for walks in a season (first) and home runs in a season (sixth).
Reed played three seasons at the University of Kentucky (2012-14). After his junior year, he earned the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Golden Spikes Award (for the nation’s top amateur player), Dick Howser Trophy and Player of the Year honors from ABCA and Baseball America as well as the John Olerud Trophy and several first-team All-America mentions and Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year. In 2012, he was on several first-team Freshman All-America lists.
The Houston Astros selected Reed in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft and he was an All-Star in Minor League Baseball in 2015, 2017 and 2018. He was a two-time recipient of the Joe Bauman Award for leading MiLB in homers and was Rookie of the Year and MVP at Lancaster of the California League in 2015.
Reed retired from baseball in May 2020 and resides in Riley with Shelby and their two dogs. He plans to return to college to finish his bachelor’s degree.