Category Archives: Pro

Hootons bring ’special vibe’ to Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A husband-and-wife team with decades in baseball has been making an impact on a team and a city since making it their home in the spring and summer for the past six seasons.

Burt Hooton has been the pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps, a Low Class-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres since 2013.

In 2018, he is one a Fort Wayne coaching staff led by manager Anthony Contreras and also featuring hitting coach Jonathan Mathews and fielding coach Jhonny Carvajal.

Like she’s done throughout most of their marriage, wife Ginger Hooton has been there in-person to lend support to her husband and — through her personality — uplift those around her.

And not just because of her mouth-watering desserts like chocolate chip cookies, caramel brownies and Tres Leches cake.

“She’s a people person,” says Burt, who met Ginger in late 1970 when they both attended the University of Texas at Austin, got engaged in September 1972 and married Dec. 30, 1972. “She loves people. She likes pleasing people. She’s extremely friendly.”

TinCaps president Mike Nutter seconds that sentiment.

“She is such a motivator,” says Nutter of Ginger Hooton. “I’ve never heard a negative thing come out of her mouth.

“She has a unique perspective and outlook.”

The Hootons live right next to Parkview Field in the CityScape Flats. When Nutter and his crew were keeping their eye on the radar and dealing with rain delays Thursday, Aug. 16, Ginger sent him an encouraging text from her balcony.

She wanted him to know she had seen a rainbow over the field and wanted to see how he was doing.

“This is my 27th season in Minor League Baseball,” says Nutter. “Along the way, there are a handful of special people that come into your life.

“Ginger and Burt are certainly in that group. It’s a really special connection they have made. They want to work and make an impact in those young kids’ lives. They just have this special vibe.”

Both native Texans, Burt was a broadcast journalism major from the coastal city of Corpus Christi and art major Ginger hailed from the small farming community of Wharton.

The two met through a campus service organization — the Texas Cowboys. Their first date was at the group’s formal dance.

“I never knew he played baseball,” says Ginger. “I wasn’t a big baseball fan.”

She found it odd that so many people were shaking his hand. She learned years later that he had just thrown a no-hitter for the Longhorns.

Burt Hooton began his professional baseball career in 1971.

A standout at UT, the right-handed pitcher was selected in the first round of the 1971 amateur draft (second overall pick) by the Chicago Cubs and went on to pitch until 1985, winning 151 games and racking up over 2,600 innings.

On April 16, 1972, Burt tossed a no-hitter for the Cubs in his fourth MLB game and went on to be an all-star and the National League Championship Series MVP for the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers (who went on to win the World Series). He was known to possess a wicked knuckle curveball.

Even with all his accomplishments, Nutter marvels that Burt Hooton has no ego.

“He has a great gift of working with these young men,” says Nutter. “Anthony Contreras calls it a ‘feel’ for what will work for them.”

After taking the time to complete his college degree (he promised his mother he would finish it after leaving Texas at the end of his junior year), Burt launched into a coaching career in 1988 and has been a pitching coach at every level of organized professional baseball plus three collegiate seasons with the Texas Longhorns. He was the pitching coach for the big-league Houston Astros 2000-04.

Along the way, Ginger has been making friends in the stands and around the towns where Burt played or coached. When he was coaching in Round Rock, Houston and Oklahoma City, there were enough wives around for Ginger to lead a Bible study.

With younger players (the oldest players on the current Fort Wayne roster is 24 and there are nine teenagers), there is no opportunity with player wives.

“I just really prayed about it and God told me to feed my sheep so I just feed them,” says Ginger. “It’s mostly sweets.”

Pre- and post-game meals are provided by clubhouse manager Sam “Swirley” Lewis.

And it’s not just the players and and coaching staff that have sampled Ginger’s baked goods. Most everyone who works at Parkview Field — front office personnel, ushers, parking lot attendants — has gotten a taste.

The downtown stadium doubles as a public space when a game is not in progress. Many people walk around the perimeter of the field for exercise. Ginger walks there and greets those she encounters along the way.

When Burt and Ginger’s children — Gene and Layne — were very young, they would come to spring training with their parents and be tutored by their mother. As they grew older, they would visit spring training during spring break and then come to whatever baseball city their father called home.

“She always saw to it that she and the kids were wherever I was,” says Burt. “Now, it’s easy. We don’t have any kids (at home). I certainly don’t want to leave her home by herself (in San Antonio).

“I want her here. She wants to be here. We both enjoy it. It’s almost like a five-month vacation.”

This season has seen a steady stream of visits from family and friends. Sometimes when Burt is away, Ginger will go to help daughter Layne with her San Antonio-based store.

“I’ve been entertaining a lot,” says Ginger. “This season has flown by.

“I don’t know what I do, but I stay busy.”

Before moving into CityScape Flats, the Hootons lived next to Parkview Field at The Harrison. For the first few years in Fort Wayne, they resided in places across the city — far enough away that Ginger would sit in the one car they brought from Texas to pick up Burt after games.

Now, he can just walk home.

“I can get stuff done at home,” says Ginger.

The Hootons have gotten to know Fort Wayne and the surrounding area, checking out sites, museums and restaurants.

“Fort Wayne is a great town,” says Burt, the keynote speaker at the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association banquet in May. “The people we have met here have been great.”

Ginger and Burt also drive together on some of the TinCaps’ closer road trips.

“We enjoy traveling around together and being together,” says Burt. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The (Midwest) League is small enough that we can hop in the car and go places like Lansing, Grand Rapids, Dayton, South Bend and Midland, Mich.

“We’re having fun together.”

At 68, Burt takes his coaching career one season at a time.

“As long as I’m still healthy and enjoy it, somebody wants me and she’s OK with it,” says Burt. “When they ask me, I say I’ll ask Ginger and see what she says, She usually says whatever you want to do is fine with me.

“When she says ‘no’ that’ll probably be the end of it.”

Ginger sees the satisfaction her husband gets by helping to launch the pro careers of young pitchers.

“I think his greatest joy is getting to move these young kids up,” says Ginger. “It’s like our own children getting to make it.”

The past few weeks, the Hootons have been watching the Padres on TV and seeing players who once played in Fort Wayne.

“It’s so fun to get to see them experience that,” says Ginger.

And this husband and wife are experiencing so much together.


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Burt (left) and Ginger Hooton share a moment outside Parkview Field, where Burt is in his sixth season as pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps. The couple was married Dec. 30, 1972. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Former McCutcheon, Indiana slugger Sowers displaying power as pro rookie in White Sox system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Sowers has made a habit of clobbering baseballs since his days at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Ind.

As Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2014, the righty-swinging Sowers slugged 11 home runs while hitting .365 with 30 runs batted in and a .514 on-base percentage.

“I consider myself a power hitter,” says Sowers, 22. “I had pretty good power numbers in college and high school.”

That trend has continued in his first professional season with the Chicago White Sox organization.

Sowers was drafted in the 28th round of 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox after playing fours seasons at Indiana University (2015-18) and headed to the Short-Season Class-A Pioneer League to play for the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers.

“I’m really grateful I was drafted by the White Sox,” says Sowers. “They are first class.

“The coaches are really positive and know a lot about the game of baseball. They understand the grind. They know what we’re going through. They’re good about accommodating us in every way possible.”

Tim Esmay is the Great Falls manager. Eric Richardson, who played for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks in 1994 and 1995, is the Voyagers hitting coach.

Sowers’ first pro homer came in his fourth game on June 20 against Billings.

Playing in the outfield, Sowers helped Great Falls win the PL North Division in the first half of the split season. Through his first 47 games, he was hitting .318 with seven homers, 11 doubles, 26 RBIs with .411 on-base and .518 slugging averages. He started in center field in the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star Game.

At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Sowers says his power comes from a mixture of size, strength and bat speed.

The dimensions of Centene Stadium in Great Falls is 328 feet down the left field line, 415 to center and 335 down the line in right. Most of his road dingers have been of the opposite-field variety.

“I have long arms and can get great leverage,” says Sowers, who clubbed five of his first seven long balls away from Great Falls. “When I get extended I can hit the ball pretty far.

“Baseball going toward launch angles. But I’m just trying to hit the ball hard.”

Working hard is what was expected by Sowers’ head coach at McCutcheon —  Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

“He taught me work ethic and was a big stickler for showing up on time and behaving yourself outside of baseball,” says Sowers. “Was he old school? You could definitely say that.”

“Playing in high school was when I found my true talent for baseball. I was good growing up. Then I started putting it a lot of time outside of school practices.”

A third baseman on the freshman team in 2011, Sowers was an outfielder on the Mavericks varsity 2012-14.

Logan went to the batting cages with his father, Shawn Sowers, and got regular pointers during his  high school and college years from former Purdue University and minor league player Jordan Comadena (who is now bullpen catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates).

An IHSBCA all-stater who played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Richmond in 2014, Sowers was selected in the 31st round of that years’s MLB draft by the San Diego Padres. After weighing his options to go pro out of high school or attend college, he decided to attend Indiana University to play for the Hoosiers and study recreational sport management.

Recruited to IU by Tracy Smith, Sowers was given permission to talk with other schools when Smith left Bloomington, Ind., to become head coach at Arizona State University.

A meeting with incoming head coach Chris Lemonis convinced Sowers to stay committed to Indiana and he played there for four seasons (2015-18), hitting .281 with 37 home runs, 50 doubles, 137 RBIs, a .367 on-base and .480 slugging averages.

“(Lemonis) was big on getting your school work done,” says Sowers. “You’re a student before you’re an athlete.”

Lemonis (now head coach at Mississippi State University) worked with IU’s outfielders and also let his Hoosiers know that time in practice is not good enough to get players to the next level. They had to find time between their studies and team activities to do extra work on their own.

In the summers of 2015 and 2016, Sowers played 38 games in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League — first with the Wareham Gatemen and then the Orleans Firebirds.

Sowers completed all his classwork toward his degree and now just needs to complete an internship, which he says he plans to do next baseball off-season.

Great Falls, which takes bus rides of up to four hours for North Division opponents and treks up to 15 hours for South Division clubs, wraps the regular season Sept. 3, followed by the playoffs.

At season’s end, Sowers says he plans to come back to Lafayette for a few days and then head back to Bloomington to train and pursue a part-time job.

Born in Royal Oak, Mich., Logan lived briefly in Indianapolis, but he spent much of his life in Lafayette, where his father is now a project manager in the IT office service management at Purdue University. Shawn and Valerie Sowers have three children — Madison, Logan and Adrienne.

Logan played travel baseball for the Indiana Pony Express, McCutcheon league and Indiana Eagles before one summer with the Indiana Bulls.

Michael McCormick, a pitcher and Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, is also a member of the Great Falls Voyagers.

After Great Falls, the minor league steps on the White Sox ladder are Kannapolis (Low-A), Winston-Salem (High-A), Birmingham (Double-A) and Charlotte (Triple-A).

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Logan Sowers, a former McCutcheon High School and Indiana University slugger, is putting up power numbers in his first professional baseball season. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

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Logan Stevens was Indiana Mr. Baseball at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette and put up power numbers in four seasons at Indiana University. He is now with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

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Logan Sowers was named to the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star Game as a member of the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox system. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

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Through 47 games with the 2018 Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers of the Pioneer League, former McCutcheon High School and Indiana University outfielder Logan Sowers was hitting .318 with seven home runs, 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in June. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

 

Hartnagel living a legacy, enjoying baseball friendships

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A young man with a head for business continues in what has been part of the family biz for generations.

Michael Hartnagel graduated with a marketing degree from Butler University in 2017 and began work on his Masters of Business Administration.

Like his grandfather, Ralph Hartnagel Jr., and father, Ralph Hartnagel III, as well as uncles, aunts and cousins, Michael has continued to pursue athletics.

Also a tennis player while at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School, Michael Hartnagel’s latest athletic endeavors have centered around baseball.

After a season at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., he played three campaigns for Butler University in Indianapolis (2016-18) and has extended that fun since early July to the professional ranks with the Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers of the independent Frontier League.

While working on his MBA, Hartnagel played in 51 games and hit .293 with one home run, 16 doubles, 26 runs batted in and 10 stolen bases for Butler in 2018.

For his three-year Bulldogs career, Hartnagel played in 156 games and hit .314 with three homers, 46 doubles, 70 RBIs and 15 stolen bases with five-hit games in 2016 against St. John’s and 2017 against Furman.

Through his first 22 games with Schaumburg, the righty-swinging shortstop was hitting . 264 with no homers, five doubles and five runs batted in.

“I’m living on that legacy of my grandfather and my dad,” says Michael, 23. “They pass that baseball tradition down in the Hartnagel family.”

The youngest of Ralph III and Chris Hartnagel’s three children (after Brett and Justin), Michael played is last two collegiate baseball seasons for head coach Dave Schrage.

“He changed the culture,” says Hartnagel of Schrage. “He helped me be level-headed and have a better approach on the field.

“The coaching staff at Butler helped tremendously with my game. There were a lot of small improvements I needed to make, both offensively and defensively. “

Hartnagel credits Schrage for helping him on both the mental and physical sides. With his offensive, he was able to gain some gap-to-gap power.

When Michael was at Brownsburg Little League (he played there from T-ball through age 12), his father coached and stressed fundamentals. The same approach was followed by for Butler assistant Brian Meyer in working with his infielders.

“We worked on some hand-eye coordination and footwork drills,” says Hartnagel. “That’s a huge part of defense — your hands, your eyes and your feet. If those three things can sync and coordinate, you can do a lot of great things out there.”

Last spring, Butler fielded at a .school-record 970 clip with 59 errors in 1,974 chances with 114 double plays.

Hartnagel was born in Indianapolis and raised in Brownsburg. He played travel baseball his first two high school summers for a team started and coached by his father — the Brownsburg Crusaders. Three Hartnagel brothers — Ralph, Gary and Jeff — played baseball at Ball State University. Ralph also played tennis at Concord High School and has coached the sport.

Michael Hartnagel was going to play for the Indiana Bulls in his junior summer, but a torn left labrum kept him off the diamond.

At Brownsburg High School, where Michael graduated in 2013, he played for head coach Eric Mattingly and recalls the lessons he taught him.

“He told us to enjoy it and have a lot of fun with our friends,” says Hartnagel. “We were to stay level-headed and consistent — not too many highs and not too many lows.

“He wanted to make us the best player he could — on and off the field.”

Besides playing for the family legacy, Hartnagel has relished the relationships he’s made in the game.

“What I enjoy most about baseball is the friendships I’ve made over the years,” says Hartnagel.

Friends made during Little League and high school are cherished as are those from high school and now pro ball.

“It’s a blessing that my road in baseball has led me to play at this level,” says Hartnagel. “In the Frontier League, a lot of these stadiums are really, really good and so is the competition. (Young fans) look up to you.

“Everyone’s friendly. We’ve been having a really good time.”

Since Schaumburg is about three hours from Brownsburg, Hartnagel has been able to have his family or girlfriend, University of Indianapolis student Maddison Hall, visit or go home on an day off. Justin Hartnagel is a salesman at CDW in nearby Chicago.

Brett Hartnagel is an engineer at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis.

Ralph Hartnagel III is a business teacher at Avon High School and exchanges daily texts or calls of encouragement with Michael.

Chris Hartnagel teaches second grade at Stephen Decatur Elementary in Indianapolis.

Michael Hartnagel says he wants to extend his baseball experience, but does have an eye on the future.

“I would love to ride this out as long as a I can,” says Hartnagel. “Then I’ll find my next passion. I could see myself sales or maybe I’ll get my real estate license.”

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Michael Hartnagel (right) celebrates the scoring of a Schaumburg Boomers run.

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Michael Hartnagel (center) of the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers shares a moment with parents Ralph and Chris Hartnagel. Michael played at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School, DePauw University in Greencastle and Butler University in Indianapolis before professional baseball.

 

Former Columbus North, Louisville player Mann making his way in the Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

At 6-foot-3, first-year professional Devin Mann is not a typical second baseman.

Of the 30 second sackers in the No. 1 slot on the latest Major League Baseball depth charts, just two are listed as taller than 6-3. Colorado’s D.J. LeMahieu and Milwaukee’s Travis Shaw are both 6-4. Eleven current 2B starters are shorter that 6-foot. And that doesn’t count two stars on the disabled list — 5-6 Jose Altuve of Houston and 5-9 Dustin Pedroia of Boston.

Pedroia is Mann’s favorite player.

Why?

“I just like how he plays the game,” says Mann. “He plays the game really hard.

“He goes about his business everyday. That’s what they taught at (the University of) Louisville. I love that about him.”

Mann, 21, was a shortstop during his four seasons at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, which concluded in 2015.

When Mann arrived at the Louisville, he was moved to second base by Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell.

That was the position played by McDonnell at The Citadel and he put Mann through enough reps on that side of the infield that it became his natural defensive spot.

“(McDonnell) helped mold me (at second base) everyday,” says Mann. “Every kid deserves to play for a coach like that — the things he does for you as a baseball player and a person off the field don’t compare to anyone else.”

Mann also learned to flourish with the bat.

The right-handed swinger hit .303 in 39 games with no homers, nine doubles, 17 RBIs and one stolen base in 2016, .268 in 64 games with eight homers, 11 doubles, 44 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 2017 and .303 in 69 games with seven homers, 17 doubles, 52 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 2018. He hit in the No. 3 slot for the Cards this past spring.

Mann earned Atlantic Coast Conference honors in each of his three college seasons — all-freshman in 2016, third team in 2017 and all-tournament in 2018.

During that span, the Cardinals combined to go 148-45 with NCAA tournament appearances each season. U of L went to the College World Series in 2017. Louisville had eight players drafted each year, including first-rounder Brendan McKay and Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis in 2017 and Batesville’s Bryan Hoeing (who’s announced he’s returning to Louisville for 2018-19) and Mann in 2018.

Mann was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After two games with Arizona League Dodgers, Mann has logged 38 with the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Mich., and is hitting .252 with one homer, eight doubles, 14 RBIs and five stolen bases. He consistently hitting from the third or fourth hole in the Great Lakes lineup.

Mann’s first professional long ball — a two-run shot — came July 8 in Midland against Dayton.

John Shoemaker is the Loons manager. The hitting coach is Jair Fernandez.

Mann says he has gained an awareness as a hitter. He recognizes the pitches he can do damage on and aggressively pursues those pitches.

“I’ve trained myself to see pitches early and have an awareness of the strike zone,” says Mann. “It’s paid dividends for me.

“I’ve definitely worked hard at it.”

Watching his power numbers go up at the end of his college career, Mann credits the increase too good mechanics and hitting his preferred pitch more times than not.

“It’s about not missing the pitch you’re getting each at-bat,” says Mann. “The rest might be pitcher’s pitches which are tougher to hit.”

Told the importance of finding a daily routine in pro baseball, where games are played nearly everyday, Mann says he was able to find one early.

Mann more of less re-wrote the offensive record book at Columbus North, finishing his prep career as the Bull Dogs’ career leader in average (.449), runs (118), hits (150), doubles (36), triples (10), home runs (20), RBI (111) and stolen bases (92). The right-handed swinger batted .410 with nine homers and 35 RBIs as a senior, earning all-state honors. He hit .433 average with 14 doubles and 24 RBIs as a junior. He set single-season records for average (.532) and stolen bases (30) as a sophomore.

His head coach was Ben McDaniel.

“He’s similar to Coach McDonnell,” says Mann of McDaniel. “He cares about you as a person off the field and knows the game.

“He demands the most out of you everyday. That’s what a team needs. He treats everybody the same — varsity, JV and freshmen.”

Devin, an only child, calls McDaniel “a second father” and says he and his parents — Bill and Diana Mann — are close friends. Bill owns Moore’s Roofing and Diana works for an asset management company.

Growing up in Columbus, Devin played early travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. His 12-year-old summer, he was at Bartholomew County Little League as it attempted a run at the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Mann also played travel ball for the Indiana Nitro and then the Indiana Bulls leading into his junior and senior years at Columbus North.

Dan Held was his head coach with the Bulls.

“He taught us about work ethic and getting the most out of each day,” says Mann of Held, who is now on the baseball staff at Indiana University.

Mann was a sport management major in college and is a semester shy of graduation. He says he plans to finish his degree this year or next.

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Devin Mann, a Columbus, Ind., native is playing with the Great Lakes Loons in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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A shortstop at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, Devin Mann was moved to second base at the University of Louisville and that’s where he plays much of the time in his first professional baseball season. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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Devin Mann, who played at Columbus (Ind.) North High School and the University of Louisville, smacks a pitch as a member of the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League. (Great Lakes Loons)

Delta, Ball State alum Nichols nearing baseball broadcast milestone with Dayton Dragons

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana native is about to reach a baseball broadcasting milestone with an Ohio-based team in Michigan.

Tom Nichols, a Muncie native, will work his 4,000th minor league game (radio and television combined) on Wednesday, Aug. 8, if the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons of the Low Class-A Midwest League are not rained out between now and then.

All Dragons games (140 during the regular season) are broadcast on WONE 980 AM and http://www.daytondragons.com.

In his 31st season as a baseball play-by-play announcer and his 11th in Dayton, Nichols is in some rare company.

Jim Weber (Toledo Mud Hens) and Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians) have been at the mike for more than 40 years and have done upwards of 6,000 games apiece.

Larry Ward (Chattanooga Lookouts) has been on the call for more than 35 years.

By his calculations, Nichols trails Curt Bloom (Birmingham Barons) by a few games. He counts Bloom as his longest friendship in the business. Though Bloom is a year older than Nichols, they share the same birthday — Feb. 9. They first crossed paths in the Carolina League and then for years in the Southern League.

“I’m sure I’m in the top 10, but not sure if I’m in the top five,” says Nichols of the longest current radio voices in the minors.

Nichols, 54, was born in Muncie, Ind. At age 7, he became a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

Al Michaels was the Reds play-by-play from 1971-73 and young Tom only missed games when he was playing himself.

Marty Brenneman took over Michaels’ role in 1974 and is still the No. 1 man in the Reds booth. For years, he was paired with former Cincy pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

“You used to be able to your ride bike through neighborhood and listen to the game because someone would have Marty and Joe on there porch,” says Nichols. “In those days, only 10 or 15 games were televised.”

Another way to keep up with the Reds — and baseball — in the ‘70s was by subscribing to The Sporting News. The publication came in the mail each Friday and Nichols devoured the box scores and stories after getting home on the school bus.

He played baseball at Delta High School in Muncie, where he graduated in 1982.

While at Ball State University, where he got his diploma in telecommunications in 1986, Nichols called high school football, basketball and baseball for WWHC in Hartford City and one season of Ball State baseball for WERK in Muncie.

He was the news director WLBC in Muncie for almost three years after college when he got his professional baseball broadcasting break.

Getting up the nerve to call Kellman for some advice, he was presented with the opportunity to be a No. 2 voice when musician duties took away.

Nichols did that during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

“I’m eternally grateful to Howard Kellman for giving me that opportunity,” says Nichols, who has taken the opportunity to pay it forward mentoring young broadcasters as they serve as his second during Dayton home radio broadcasts, take the whole game when Nichols is on the TV side and work extensively in media relations.

“I do that because somebody did it for me,” says Nichols. “We’ve had one every year. Many have gone on to be No. 1’s.”

Owen Serey was in Dayton in 2008 and went on to be the voice of the Midwest League’s South Bend Silver Hawks.

Jason Kempf was with Nichols and the Dragons in 2017 and 2018 and is now the No. 1 for the MWL’s Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Others who assisted Nichols in Dayton and moved on to lead play-by-play roles include Mike Couzens (Fort Wayne and now with ESPN), Brendan Gulick (Delmarva and now in Cleveland area radio), Keith Raad (Staten Island) and Alex Vispoli (Winston-Salem, Frisco and then the Ivy League).

Bill Spaulding has carved his niche in the broadcasting world by calling Olympic sports for NBC.

While Nichols is with the Dayton all-year and does many things including speaking engagements and has come to thoroughly enjoy audience Q&A’s, the Dragons No. 2 position is seasonal — March-to-September.

Nichols’ first No. 1 gig was with the Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Carolina League, where he worked for the 1990 season. Jim Thome (just inducted into the Ball Hall of Fame) led the future big leaguers on the Cleveland Indians-affiliated team. A couple others of note were Curtis Leskanic and Robert Person.

He came the Midwest League to lead airings of Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs games in 1991-92. There, he got frequently have former Harry Caray sideman Jimmy Piersall as his analyst.

“He had a tremendous knowledge of the game and was very colorful person,” says Nichols of Piersall. A Chicago Cubs farm team at the time, Nichols followed the exploits of future MLB players Brant Brown, Mike Harkey and Amaury Telemaco.

Moving over to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Minnesota Twins), Nichols surveyed action from since-razed Memorial Stadium — aka “The Castle” — and saw future big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins (who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January), Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzysnki come through town from 1993-96.

Nichols’ career path took him south to present diamond descriptions to fans of the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears (San Diego Padres) from 1997-2004. Matt Clement, Doug Dascenzo, Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy were among those on their way to the majors. Lawrence is now the pitching coach for the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs.

During much of the time Nichols was in Mobile, he was also an executive director for a franchise management company — Victory Sports Group.

From 2005-07, Nichols was director of broadcasting of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent Northern League. Jermaine Allensworth, an Anderson, Ind., product who had played in the bigs, was with Gary in 2006-07.

Nichols took his current position — Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting at Dayton Dragons Professional Baseball — prior to the 2008 campaign. Dayton’s affiliation with the Reds was one of the things that attracted him about the job.

Over the years, he has got to have former Reds sit in with him. That list features Todd Benzinger, Tommy Helms, Lee May, Ron OesterJim O’Toole and many more.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on the TV broadcast with Nichols this season.

“That was a thrill for me,” says Nichols, who was also pleased when he got to regularly interact with one of his boyhood idols — Ken Griffey Sr., when the former Red was Dayton’s hitting coach in 2010.

Indiana’s own Tucker Barnhart (who was with Brenneman and others for the 2018 Reds Caravan stop in Muncie) plus Zach Cozart, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton and many others have been Dragons and later big leaguers during Nichols’ tenure.

When a Cincinnati player makes a rehabilitation appearance with Dayton and the Reds don’t play at the same time, flagship WLW often picks up the Dragons broadcast.

In his one game on the Reds Radio Network, Nichols worked the 2017 Reds Futures Game with color man Jeff Brantley and former Cincy broadcaster Jim Kelch.

“Put this one in the win column” is the phrase Nichols uses to cap every Dayton victory.

He says he may have subconsciously picked up descriptive phrases from all those years of listening to Reds broadcasts and recordings of them on his parent’s living room stereo.

But other than the win-capper, Nichols makes it a point not to have signal calls.

He had the belief reinforced by Ernie Harwell when they spent the day and worked side-by-side with the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the 1994 Midwest League All-Star Game in Fort Wayne.

“He told me, ‘People tune in for the game, not for you,” says Nichols of Harwell. “When you put yourself ahead of the game, you’re cheating your listeners.”

Nichols does not cheat on his homework either.

“Preparation is key,” says Nichols. “I believe in that strongly.

“That’s the most important thing. The more experience you get, the better you get at preparing.”

Nichols gathers plenty of facts and has them at the ready to use during the game. He knows that he has a three-hour broadcast to fill. On the road, that’s solo. He familiarizes himself with players and coaches and any pertinent storylines around the Dragons or the opponent.

He has at his ready a sheet full of the “last time” nuggets. Who was the last Dayton player to go 4-for-4 or hit three home runs in a game? His list tells him.

For the past two decades, Nichols has been using a ledger-sized scorebook that he devised with the help of veteran Adams, Blackford and Wells County radio man Bill Morris. It gives him room to right in facts about each player, including key statistics. For opponents, he will list things like their college and draft round.

“This way you’re not looking through a media guide,” says Nichols. “Without wasted time, you can quickly mention how many homers has if he just hit another one.

“It is time-consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, there will be rewards.”

The most rewarding thing to Nichols is spending time with family.

His parents — Tom Sr. and Fran Nichols — are retired and live in a country house outside Muncie during the summer months and in Marco Island, Fla., other parts of the year. He was a firefighter in Muncie and she an accountant.

Tom Jr. is the oldest of three. There’s also brother David Nichols and sister Kelli (Nichols) Dulaney.

David Nichols is a former Delta basketball player who was one year ahead of Matt Painter (now the Purdue head men’s basketball coach) and played hoops at Huntington University. He works in claims resolution in Indianapolis.

“David is the better athlete,” says Tom Jr., who was inducted into the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaches, contributors, media, officials category in 2009. “I was very average.”

Uncle Tom is close with David’s two children — Kaylee Nichols (a volleyball player at DePauw University in Greencastle) and Matthew Nichols (a former Delta basketball player).

Kelli is employed by Delaware County 911.

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With his trusty ledger-sized scorebook in front of him, Tom Nichols broadcasts a Dayton (Ohio) Dragons baseball game. He is in his 31st season as a play-by-play man — 11th with Dayton — and is nearing his 4,000th game broadcast, most of those on radio and about 200 for Dayton on television. (Dayton Dragons Photo)

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Tom Nichols, a graduate of Delta High School and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., does a stand-up during a Dayton Dragons telecast. Nichols has been doing minor league baseball play-by-play since 1988 and has been a No. 1 voice since 1990. He started in Dayton 2008. (Dayton Dragons)

Morgan Township, Grace graduate Dougherty pursuing goals in independent United Shore Baseball League

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was a time in the life of Joe Dougherty that he convinced himself he was done with baseball.

“I was thinking about giving up on baseball at the time,” says Dougherty, who is pitching for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich. “I’m very thankful I didn’t do it now.

“A lot of people have told me to stick with my dream so I would have no regrets later in life.”

A successful right-handed pitcher, infielder and outfielder at Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., where he helped the Jason Dorshorst-coached Cherokees win IHSAA Class 1A sectional titles as a junior and senior in 2012 and 2013, Dougherty was not planning on pursuing baseball at the next level.

For his prep career, Dougherty won 20 games with 253 strikeouts — both school records. He was 9-3 with a 1.83 ERA and 102 K’s as a junior in 2012 as Morgan Township went 23-5 and followed that up with 18-10 in 2013.

Dorshorst, who went to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, told Dougherty he thought he had what it took play college baseball.

“He helped me a lot,” says Dougherty of Dorshorst. “He understood me as a player. He encouraged me to go after my dream.”

With newfound confidence, that dream had changed pursuing baseball at the college level and — maybe —  beyond.

Enter Bill Barr.

The head baseball coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., Barr was there when Dougherty enjoyed a very fine day on the diamond.

It was in the semifinals of the 2013 Caston Regional. Dougherty clubbed a grand slam, drove in five runs and also pitched in relief in a 6-5 semifinal loss to Elkhart Christian.

After the contest, Dougherty talked with Barr and was convinced to make a campus visit.

That led to a four-season career with the Grace Lancers  the first three with Barr as head coach.

“I give him credit for giving me the opportunity for playing college baseball,” says Dougherty, who made 30 appearances with Barr as head coach and 12 as a senior with Cam Screeton in charge of the Lancers program.

Dougherty fanned 78 and walked 58 in 106 1/3 innings at Grace.

During Grace’s spring trip, Dougherty met Diamond Hoppers manager Paul Noce.

A baseball veteran, Noce who played for the 1987 Chicago Cubs and 1990 Cincinnati Reds and was a successful head coach at Hillsdale (Mich.) College saw potential in Dougherty and invited him to Michigan to throw a bullpen session after the college season.

“It was only throwing in the mid-80’s at that point,” says Dougherty of his velocity. “(Noce) encouraged me to keep working hard.”

So Dougherty went to play for the Shawn Harper-managed Mishawaka Brewers of the Northern Indiana Adult Baseball League and worked out with Shane Zegarac, pitching and strength coach at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. — a short drive from Valparaiso.

“He deserves a lot of credit for getting me here in the first place,” says Dougherty of Zegarac, who pitched in the Texas Rangers organization and parts of three seasons with the Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent Frontier League.

The 6-foot-3 Dougherty packed on about 20 pounds and his heater was up to low 90’s when he went to pitch for the Canada A’s of 2018 California Winter League. He made eight mound appearances (three as a starter) and was 1-1 with a 2.41 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and 12 walks in 20 1/3 innings.

He was signed by the USPBL — a developmental league with four teams (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths are the others) that play all their games at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, a northern suburb of Detroit.

The league takes Mondays off. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are non-public day games. Thursday through Saturday are night contests and Sundays are day games. The regular season began May 11 and wraps Sept. 2. Each team plays 50 games. Rosters are limited to 20 players age 18-26.

“This league is focused on getting players to the next level,” says Dougherty. “They are pretty good at giving guys plenty of time to develop those skills.

“They give you a really good shot to further your career here.”

More than 20 players have gone on to sign contracts with Major League Baseball-affiliated teams since the USPBL debuted in 2016.

Dougherty has been starting and is 1-1 with a 5.09 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 17 walks in 17 2/3 innings.

Between starts, he does a lot of recovery work and maintenance in the weight room — staying away too much in-season heavy lifting. He also does a lot of running, including sprints.

Dougherty was born and raised in Valparaiso the third child of Keith and Beth Dougherty. His older sisters are Rachel and Kelsey.

He played summer league at Morgan Township and then a little travel baseball in junior high and high school.

At Grace, Joe earned a degree in Design Engineering Technology. He says he is especially interested in computer-aided design.

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Joe Dougherty, a graduate of Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., and Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is now playing for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League. (USPBL Photo)

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Joe Dougherty goes into his wind-up during a game at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, Mich. All games in the four-team United Shore Professional Baseball League are played there. (Matt Cripsey Photo)

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Determination shows on the face of Joe Dougherty as he warms up for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers on the independent United Shore Baseball League. He is a graduate of Morgan Township Middle/High School and Grace College in Indiana. (Matt Cripsey Photo)

 

Anderson’s Earley enjoying his time with independent Southern Illinois Miners

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Earley is in his third season of independent professional baseball.

The Anderson, Ind., native is playing with the Marion, Ill.-based Southern Illinois Miners in the Frontier League.

While the lefty-swinging outfielder is driven to get back into Major League Baseball-affiliated ball, he is enjoying where he is now.

“It’s a great facility and the community is really supportive,” says Earley, 27, “This is a competitive league.”

Earley played at Brooklyn Little League in Anderson until age 12 and travel ball with the Indiana Bulls from 13 to 18. He also competed for Anderson High School and the University of South Alabama and then in the Chicago White Sox organization before joining the Miners in 2016.

Terry Turner was his high school head coach. His older brother Michael also played for the man who went on to win IHSAA Class 1A state titles at Daleville in 2016 and 2018.

“I remember his enthusiasm for baseball,” says Nolan Earley of Turner. “He’s probably one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. All the positive energy spreads throughout the team.

“I really enjoyed playing for him.”

At USA, Earley appeared in 201 games in four seasons with a .318 average, 11 homers, 138 RBIs, 53 doubles and 220 runs.

Steve Kittrell was head coach for the Jaguars when early arrived in Mobile, Ala., and Mark Calvi was and still is the leader of the program when he departed.

“I learned a lot from both of them,” says Earley. “(Kittrell) had an old-school look to the game. He all preached playing hard and control the things you can control.

“(Calvi) talked about being positive about the game. He had that hard-nosed mentality, but wanted you to keep your composure on the field.

“If stay positive and you can go a long way.”

Calvi was an assistant on the University of South Carolina staff when the Gamecocks won the 2010 College World Series. The next season, he became a South Alabama assistant and took over as head coach for the 2012 season.

Earley was selected in the 22nd round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox and signed by scout Warren Hughes. The outfielder saw time at Short Season Class-A Bristol, Low-A Kannapolis and High-A Winston-Salem through 2015. In 181 games in the affiliated minors, he hit .283 with five homers, 37 doubles, 76 RBIs and 62 runs.

Nolan was released out of spring training in 2016 and hooked on with the Miners — a team brother Michael hit .325 for in 96 games in 2015 after he was let go by the White Sox at the end of the 2014 season.

Michael Earley, a rigthy-hitting outfielder, graduated from Anderson High in 2006 and played one season at the University of Cincinnati and three at Indiana University before being drafted in the 29th round by the White Sox in 2010. After scout Mike Shirley signed him, Michael logged five seasons in the system, getting up to Triple-A Charlotte for 27 games in 2013.

Both Earley brothers have gotten instruction from and worked for Shirley at his Pro Source Baseball facility — aka “The Barn” — in Lapel, Ind.

Michael gave his endorsement of the Miners to his little brother.

“He definitely has a lot of influence when I make decisions,” says Nolan of Michael. “He told me how well he enjoyed this place. I’ve enjoyed everything about it.”

In 96 games in 2016, Nolan hit .291 with nine homers, 20 doubles, 70 RBIs and 53 runs.

The 2017 season saw him in 95 games and batting .264 with 11 homers, 16 doubles, 45 RBIs and 43 runs.

Through 56 games in 2018, Earley was hitting .264 with seven homers, 16 doubles, 21 runs batted in and 31 runs scored.

Mike Pinto is the longtime Miners manager.

“He’s definitely one of the most competitive field I’ve ever met,” says Earley. “He loves to win and hates to lose.

“If you’re going to play this game, you’ve got to have that feeling.”

Since there’s an age limit in the Frontier League, this season will be Earley’s last. If he is not picked up by an MLB organization, he has his sights on the independent Atlantic League or American Association.

Michael Earley is heading into his third year as an assistant baseball coach at Arizona State University, where Indiana native and former Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith is in charge of the Sun Devils.

Smith has turned over hitting coach duties to Earley.

Nolan gets pointers from Michael on the phone or makes a trek to Arizona to work with him.

“I take as much information as a I can and add it toward my game,” says Nolan, who enjoys learning things and holds a history degree from South Alabama.

Kevin and Tammy Earley are parents to Michael (married with children) and Nolan (single).

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Nolan Earley, a 2009 Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate, is now in his third season with the independent Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League. (Veronica Francis Photo)

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Nolan Earley celebrates after scoring a run for the Southern Illinois Miners. Earley is graduated for Anderson (Ind.) High School and the University of South Alabama and played in the Chicago White Sox organization. (Southern Illinois Miners Photo)