An opportunity to make a difference has led Dan Turner back to the Indianapolis neighborhood where he grew up. Turner was raised two blocks from the Children’s Guardian Home. “I had a good friend that lived here,” says Turner. “We used to sneak in here and play basketball.” That building just inside the I-465 circle on the near east side now houses Irvington Preparatory Academy and Turner is in his second season as the Ravens head baseball coach. IPA is the high school portion of Irvington Community Schools and is a charter school with a diverse student population. “Many students come from low-income families or part of the 21st Century Scholars program (which makes college affordable based on need and other factors). “We want to provide a safe learning environment and raise students who are respectful and prepared for the modern world,” says Irvington Prep principal Jana Goebel. “We want them to be good citizens, hard workers and successful in their life after high school. “We want everyone can go to college, but we know that college isn’t for everyone. We have a few kids every year that join the military, several do apprenticeships for the trades and some just go right into the workforce. But I would say probably 60 percent are college bound. “You don’t have to go to college, but you have to have a plan.” Says Turner, “High school baseball can’t be the pinnacle of our life.” It’s the education-focused model and a chance to better the lives of young people that that drew Turner to the school. “I think the world would be much better if we just took a little pocket and changed our pockets or our neighborhoods,” says Turner, who was hired by former Irvington Prep athletic director Teddy Rogers. “It’s about doing good. It’s about changing the culture. It’s getting kids off the gerbil wheel and making them understand that there’s opportunities in this world and we can make a difference. “If we all made a difference in our communities the big world problems would go away. This is why I like it here.” Diversity also means different ethnic and social backgrounds. Turner does not want those to be a stumbling block to learning and a successful baseball program. “We have to understand we’re all the same race,” says Turner. “We just have different skin colors. We’re all human race.” After playing no games in 2020 (COVID-19 pandemic) and 2021 (low numbers), the Ravens went 10-7 and won the Greater Indianapolis Conference title in 2022 with a roster of 14. The win total is a school record. Before the season started, several Irvington players took part in a National Scouting Report Metrics Combine at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield. The 2023 team is off to a 3-1 start. Turner has high standards. “I’m tough on my guys and I’m brutally honest,” says Turner. “I don’t pull punches. “Accountability is huge. I don’t put up with excuses. One of my favorite sayings is ‘excuses are a justification for failure.’ We’ve got to make our kids better on the field and in the classroom or we’re in trouble.” Irvington Prep (enrollment around 360) is a member of the Greater Indianapolis Athletic Conference (with baseball-playing schools Crispus Attucks, Eminence, Indianapolis Washington, Purdue Polytechnic and Tindley). The Ravens are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 (up from 1A) with Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Scecina, Park Tudor and Triton Central. Irvington has not yet won a sectional title. IPA plays and practice three miles from campus at McNulty Park on Raymond Avenue — home to Irvington Sports Baseball & Softball. That’s the same grounds where Turner played Little League. Hans Lassiter, who played baseball at North Carolina State A&T University, is Chief Executive Officer of Irvington Community Schools. “He’s going to give us the resources to be a handful here on the east side of Indianapolis,” says Turner. “We’re going to be good. “We’re going to drive this thing to be a good program — a program that’s based off education first.” Victories are a priority for the coach. “Winning is important,” says Turner. “I think losing becomes acceptable. And when losing becomes acceptable we transfer that into our lives outside baseball.” The Ravens coaching staff also includes Orien Ogg (father of pro pitcher Kenny Ogg), Warren Belton, Jim Ellis, Roger Rebbnack and oldest son Brandon Turner. “I look at all of us as co-coaches,” says Dan Turner. “This is a team. This is a family.” Turner is a 1983 graduate of the former Indianapolis Howe Community High School. Dan and wife Trischa have been married since 1986. She is a 1984 Warren Central High School graduate who now serves as Vice President for Perioperative Services for Methodist Hosptials. The couple has four children — daughters Courtney and Brittany and sons Brandon and Bradley. All went to Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind. Brandon Turner played college baseball at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati and Bradley Turner at the University Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. Turner, who is regional sales manager for TW Sales and splits his time between Indiana and Florida, has been in the travel baseball world for many years. He started with the Mt. Vernon Vipers then was with Harold Gibson (father of big leaguer Kyle Gibson) and the Indiana Bandits. Around 2010, Turner helped start the Indy Stix. The organization will field 16U, 17U and 18U teams this summer. Supplements have allowed inner-city kids to play travel ball with a chance to go to college. K.J. Rankin (Irvington Prep Class of 2024) is on the IPA and Indy Stix 16U rosters. Turner also started Lead-Off Consulting, which helps players and the parents though the college recruiting process. A few years ago, Turner went to Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis to assist Titans head coach Bob Haney. “I always knew the inner-city needs help — not just on the field but they need a lot of other things,” says Turner, who used his travel team to start a clothing drive when he found a player wrapped in a bed sheet to stay warm because he had no coat. “These are the things that eat at me,” says Turner. “We’ve got to make a difference.”
About 4,000 teams are expected to play in Bullpen Tournaments events across the spring, summer and fall seasons at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., and other diamonds. His part of that will keep Chris Gorman hopping. As Bullpen’s Director of High School Tournaments, he handles registration, scheduling and operations and also helps with staffing of interns and hourly workers and assists with youth tournaments when needed. Most of the 15U to 18U tourneys held in June and July and coordinated by Gorman are staged at Grand Park and Championship Park in Kokomo. Other local, high-quality off-site fields like Kokomo Municipal Stadium are also used. The majority of teams are from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan, but there are those from outside. Gorman counts Director of Operations Cam Eveland and Vice President of Operations Michael Tucker as his direct supervisors. Born in Fort Wayne and raised in Auburn in Indiana, Gorman is a graduate of DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind. (2015) — where he played basketball — and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. (2019) — where he was Sport Administration major and Marketing minor. Gorman has also served Bullpen Tournaments as an hourly Quad Manager, making sure games ran smoothly and on schedule. “This role helped me understand the operations and the standard that was needed to be met for all our events,” says Gorman. From there he was promoted to Assistant Director of Operations at Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo., a Prep Baseball Report facility just outside of Kansas City. The job allowed him to implement to apply the same standards set by Bullpen at Grand Park. “This role required me to have my hands in many different areas of our business and helped me understand the entire company as a whole rather than just from an operations standpoint,” says Gorman. Why did he choose this as a profession? “I knew I always wanted to have some sort of career in the sports world,” says Gorman. “I was always curious about how things worked behind the scenes, so when I started out as an hourly worker for Bullpen, I was able to get hands on experience of the behind-the-scenes work involved in running high quality events. “I learned to love the jobs I was asked to do so pursuing a sport operations role was something that interested me very strongly.” Gorman’s resume also includes Security Assistant for the Chicago Cubs, Tournament Director for PBR, Tournament Site Director for World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne and Ticket Sales Representative for the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
Jake Banwart, the head baseball coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis since 2018, looks to the 2023 campaign with a mix of returnees and newcomers possession physical tools. But that’s not been the focus for the Falcons in the months leading up to the season. “It’s mindset,” says Banwart. “We definitely have some talent to work with in this group. The off-season can get pretty long and monotonous. We have established the mentality of not worrying about playing time and challenging themselves to get better on a day-to-day basis not only on the physical side but on their daily habits and mindset. “We’ve dove in quite a bit on the mental side.” Banwart is president and co-founder of Baseball Academics/Fastpitch Academics Midwest (BAM/FAM) — an organization he started in 2015 with Adam Gouker (the former Indianapolis Lutheran High School head coach who serves as vice president) that emphasizes the six-tool player (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power plus the mental skill). BAM and FAM has around 450 athletes on 36 travel teams — 18 baseball and 18 softball — that train at Extra Innings Indy South. With the growth of all three and the addition of Dugout Coalition (which offers online mental training for coaches and players) and his one-one mindset and small group routine mindset training, Banwart wrapped an eight-year stretch as a classroom teacher about two years ago. Perry Meridian (enrollment around 2,300) is a member of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland Community). MSC teams play home-and-home weekday series. The Falcons are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with Franklin Central, Arsenal Tech, Roncalli, Southport and Warren Central. Perry Meridian has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2007. Roncalli, Southport and Warren Central are also on the Falcons’ regular-season schedule. Michael Carter (Class of 2023) is committed to Franklin (Ind.) College and two or three others are expected to announce where they will play college baseball by the start of the season. Recent graduates moving on the college diamond include Class of 2018’s Jesse Wainscott (who has transferred from Eastern Illinois University to Arizona State University), Class of 2019’s Charlie Joyce (Hanover, Ind., College) and Sean Thomas (Franklin College), Class of 2021’s Luke Genier (Olney, Ill., Central College) and John Joyce (Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) and Class of 2022’s Kellen Reed (Franklin College) and Mason Rohlman (Franklin College). There are typically 40 players to fill varsity and junior varsity roles for the Falcons. Perry Meridian is part of Perry Township Schools along with Southport High School and shares lighted Holder Field with Cardinals. The Falcons play JV games and run many practices on-campus. Banwart’s varsity assistants are Robbie Strader, Cortez Hague, P.J. Miles and Ryan Parrot. Sam Ahrens is the JV head coach. He is assisted by Joe Garmon. Southport Little League and Edgewood Athletic Association feed into Perry Meridian. Many players come from travel programs BAM, Top Tier Indiana (formerly Indiana Elite), Midwest Astros and Indy Clutch. Banwart, who met Gouker while both were attending Anderson (Ind.) University, began assisting in baseball and teaching at Daleville (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School and helped the Broncos to the 2016 IHSAA Class 1A state championship. He taught online while guiding Liberty Christian School in Anderson to a conference championship then moved to Perry Meridian, where he taught for three years. Perry Meridian has a large population that traces its roots to Burma. There is a Burmese American Community Institute in Indianapolis. Over the years, some have served as baseball student managers or athletic trainers. Baseball does not enjoy the same level popularity in Burma as soccer and volleyball.
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.
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.
Development as ballplayers and beyond the diamond. That’s the aim for the Indiana Expos and Indiana Angels travel organization and Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities in Brownsburg and Plainfield. Isaac Sampen, 29, is co-owner of the Expos and Angels travel baseball organizations with his father — former big league pitcher Bill Sampen (Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels) — and Samp’s Hack Shack director of operations. “We try to push the needle in the positive direction,” says Isaac. “We’ve had success and we’re going to keep doing it.” Doing things the right way as Sampen defines it includes getting players to approach the game with respect. “We’re doing everything we can to help players reach their maximum potential and be part of a family,” says Sampen. “They do not just share a logo. “We’re all in on our players. What matters most that our players develop and get better. That’s the end-all, be-all for us. If our guys are getting better we’ll win games.” It starts with teaching baseball skills. But players are also challenged to excel in life. That may be the classroom, weight room or community. “We want to help them be good people,” says Sampen. “When kids know you legitimately care about them you can get more out of them on the field.” The Indiana Expos played their first games in 2016 with 15U being the oldest age division. The Sampens saw a need to have an organization led by coaches who did not have sons in the program. After meeting people who wanted the option to coach their sons with training and guidance from knowledgeable baseball people, the Indiana Angels debuted in 2022-23. The 2022-23 Expos have 14 teams 13U to 17U. The Angels have 17 squads 8U to 15U. The age divisions tend to vary year by year. Between travel teams and the training facilities, there are more than 60 coaches/instructors. Sampen’s 13U Expos played around 50 games over a dozen weekends April through July in 2022 and is expected to do the same at the 14U level in 2023. As he sees it, the biggest difference between high school players and the younger ones is communication. “At 14, they’ve had less time on Earth,” says Sampen. “Maybe it’s more elementary. They don’t have the same experience (as older players). “But I don’t like cookie-cutting things. I teach and challenge on a per-player basis.” Sampen is not loud with his communication. “I’m not a screamer or yeller — none of our guys are,” says Sampen. “I don’t think it’s effective. Sometimes it causes chaos.”. While 14-year-olds tend to be less mature, some are more advanced and similar to those a few years older. Expos/Angels players are expected to earn their role on the team and equal playing time is not the rule. They are given the freedom to fail. “We don’t want them to be robotic,” says Sampen. “We don’t want guys to feel stress to play. “We let them fail and then teach. We want them to win.” Sampen says most players — especially on the Expos side — have college baseball aspirations at minimum. The organization’s first three graduating classes (2020-22) saw 73 move on to college ball. Over the years, players have developed on the field but they’ve also done things like sending notes to people having a tough time. “It’s about thinking outside themselves,” says Sampen. “You’re getting outside your bubble.” In paying it forward, athletes have helped with camps during and after their time playing for the organization. “(Younger) kids look up to those guys,” says Sampen, who is now attached to a 14U Expos team. “They think it’s cool for us, it’s good to witness that. “(Older players) are thankful for the opportunities they’ve had.” Sampen, who has also been involved with Avon Baseball Club, is a 2012 graduate of Brownsburg High School. He led Indiana in home runs and was a Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A All-State first-teamer as a senior outfielder. He committed to play at West Virginia University then decided for Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., where he was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American and national leader in slugging percentage. Sampen transferred to Eastern Illinois University (Charleston, Ill.) as a two-way player. Injuries ended his playing career. He shares his college experiences youngers players and he keeps it real. “I let them know about mistakes that I made,” says Sampen. “I warn guys. College baseball seems like its always roses. It’s not. It’s hard. I want to prepare them for the grind it is.” Sampen notes that parents are no longer there to lend daily support. In a game of failure, players must learn to cope — often on their own. There is new-found freedom at college, but also the choice of getting in trouble or keeping their nose clean. Isaac’s wife — Stacy Sampen — is a personal trainer and nutritionist based in Brownsburg. The couple has no children of their own. “But there’s about 400 of them on our 31 teams,” says Sampen. Isaac’s top baseball mentors are Bill Sampen and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil (his Brownsburg coach as a freshman and sophomore). “I’ve learned a ton from my dad,” says Isaac, the oldest of Bill and Amy Sampen’s three sons ahead of Sam and Caleb (a pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays system). “I’m blessed to have grown up with a guy who played at the highest level. “(Coach O’Neil) has been around the game for a long time and been around so many good players.” The original Samp’s Hack Shack opened in November 2009 at 17 North Adams St., Brownsburg. The Plainfield facility is at 1915 Gladden Road. Baseball and softball training is offered year-round for individuals and teams (even those outside the Expos and Angels).
Baseball took Allbry Major all over America. The Indianapolis native played in many places as a travel baller and then had college baseball adventures at three schools and with numerous summer collegiate teams. His playing career over, the 23-year-old reflects on his experiences as he finishes Week 1 on his first full-time job. What did he get out of baseball? “It taught me how to compete,” says Major. “That was something very important to me. Anything can be competition. “There’s also the relationships I made with people. It’s really a small world once you get to summer ball.” Major is now a manager trainee at a Enterprise Rent-A-Car store near San Francisco. He settled there with girlfriend and former Arizona State University softball player Mailey McLemore. Both finished their degrees this spring — Major in General Studies with a focus in Applied Sciences at Louisiana State University Shreveport and McLemore in Sports Business at ASU. Born in Indianapolis as the only child of Kendrick and Marcy Major (a trackster who competed for Indiana State University and a multi-sport prep athlete), Allbry was in Pike Township until attending North Central High School, where he graduated in 2017. In 2016, he named all-Marion County and helped the Phil McIntyre-coached Panthers to the county championship. He was academic all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference his last three years. Major made the basketball squad as a senior. He had classes with members of the team and would participate in pick-up games so he decided to go out for head coach Doug Mitchell’s squad. Mitchell went into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022. People always assumed that at 6-foot-6 he was a basketball player. “That’s everybody’s first guess,” says Major. But his first love was for the diamond. His baseball journey got rolling around age 7 at Westlane-Delaware Little League. There were travel ball stops with the Pony Express, Smithville Gators, Indiana Bandits, Indiana Outlaws, New Level Baseball Tornadoes (Illinois) and then — during his junior high and high school years — the Cincinnati Spikes, including his 17U summer. “I didn’t like (being an only child),” says Major. “I always wanted siblings. I wasn’t a big fan of the spotlight.” Major enjoyed getting to know so many coaches and teammates. He also learned from travel ball trips that sometimes had four players to a room that there were stages to the summer in the early years. “I started out the season super excited to play again with my travel team,” says Major. “In the middle of the year, they got on my nerves. The last week or two I was irritated and mad at them. I grew out out that once I got to college. Everybody was more independent. You handle your business and get out.” The summer before going to Xavier University in Cincinnati, the 6-6, 215-pound switch-hitting outfielder was with the Elmira (N.Y.) Pioneers of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. Major played at Xavier in 2018 and 2019, but not during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He was named Big East Conference Freshman of the Year in 2018 after hitting .291 (46-of-158) with two home runs, nine doubles, 21 runs batted in and 16 runs scored in 47 games (46 starts). As 16 games as a pitcher (eight starts), the right-hander went 3-5 with one save, a 4.96 earned run average, 54 strikeouts and 24 walks in 61 2/3 innings. He had just a handful of pitching outings after that. In 2019, Major played in 51 games (all starts) and hit .281 (57-of-203) with seven homers, 15 doubles, 34 RBIs and 32 runs. The Musketeers head coach was Billy O’Conner. Major was at Arizona State University in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021. With the Tracy Smith-coached Sun Devils, he was in 27 games and hit .196 with two homers and 10 RBIs. “I trying to go D-I again (after Arizona State), but there was the road block of being academically eligible,” says Major, noting how credits transferred from one school to the next. A Finance major when he started at Xavier, he switched to Communications because it was easier with his full load of baseball activities. He was going to continue down that path at ASU, but not all credits transferred and he went with General Studies/Applied Sciences (including Business, Communications and Sociology). Along the way, Major discovered his learning style to be hands-on (aka Kinesthetic). On the VARK scale there is Visual, Auditory, Reading and writing and Kinesthetic. “I identify more with that,” says Major. “The better coaches made me understand why I was doing what I was doing. Once I understood I just kind of bought in more. “Not everybody’s the same.” Joining close friend Zyon Avery (Ben Davis Class of 2018) at LSUS gave Major the opportunity to play in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, in 2022. The Brad Neffendorf-coached Pilots went 53-8 in their second straight World Series season with two losses coming in Idaho. In 51 games with LSUS, Major hit .333 (49-of-147) with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and 38 runs. Major encountered many wood bat summer league situations in college. He played briefly for both the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Brewster Whitecaps and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Valley Blue Sox (Holyoke, Mass.) in the summer of 2018. He went back to the Cape in 2019 with the Cotuit Kettleers (his head coach was American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Roberts). He had no summer team in 2020. In 2021, Major suited up for the Prospect League’s Chris Willsey-managed Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. In 99 collegiate summer league games, he hit .302 with six homers and 49 RBIs. Major was hoping to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but knew time was not on his side. “After Arizona State, that was my last real chance because of my age,” says Major. “I know how big of a factor that plays in the draft.” He had a chance to play independent pro ball, but decided to go with Mailey (daughter of former all-pro defensive back and San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl XIX-champion Dana McLemore and a former softball standout at Carlmont High School in Belmont, Calif.) and begin working. “It’s the first time I’ve had a job because I’ve been playing summer ball,” says Major. “I’m trying to adjust to that. “It’s the most expensive part of the country.” Major doesn’t see himself leaving baseball behind entirely. Coaching might be his next avenue. “I’m still going to be involved as much as a I can,” says Major. “I’ll have to see what my schedule is like now that I’m working.”
James Craig was honored in June by the Indiana High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of Interscholastic Officials Association as the top baseball umpire for 2022. Craig, a Fort Wayne resident, was selected for the award by a committee representing the 24 officials associations in Indiana. He is a member of the Northeastern Officials Association. The 57-year-old has been a licensed official for baseball since he was 19. He has worked 26 sectionals, 18 regionals, 11 semistate contests and eight State Finals. More than 10 times, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association has named Craig a district umpire of the year and he has worked a number of IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series, including 2022 at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion. Craig has also officiated high school football for 22 years and serves as referee on a crew with Fort Wayne’s James Payne (line judge), Mark Herberger (back judge) and Mark Stultz (linesman) and Bluffton’s Mark Mettler (umpire). The group has worked three State Finals, including the 2021 IHSAA Class 6A game between Center Grove and Westfield. “You want to have friends and people you can communicate with and get along,” says Craig of the football crew dynamic. “You should see as much football as you possibly can. Friday should be perfect. See the goofy stuff on Monday and Thursday nights (in freshman and junior varsity games).” Craig prefers to see as many teams and classes as possible in the regular season to be ready for the postseason. A number of football officials are also baseball umpires. Taking regular-season baseball assignments from Fort Wayne Umpires Association, Craig does games around northeast Indiana with multiple partners in a two-man crew. “We switch things up,” says Craig of the decision of who works the plate or the bases. “It’s best for everybody involved. “If it’s a doubleheader and I’ve done the plate in the first game, I guarantee (my partner) will do the plate in the second game. “In the two-man you’ve got one friend on the baseball field and it’s that guy.” During the game, Craig has a rule that he follows. “At the end of the inning always go to the side of the diamond of the defensive team,” says Craig. “They are happy they got the third out. Don’t got to the offensive side ever.” In a typical high school baseball season, Craig umpires about 38 games — each week night and a doubleheader on Saturdays. He has cut back his summer ball schedule though he still does some travel ball tournaments. After all these years, Craig maintains the same philosophy. “See as many pitches, plays and scenarios as you possibly can,” says Craig. “You’re always learning. “I’d like to say I’ve seen everything on a baseball diamond. I haven’t.” When making calls, Craig uses a rule of thumb that includes common sense, fair play and the rules. “It’s my job as an official to interpret rules,” says Craig. “I will never show up a coach. I will never embarrass them. I expect the same thing coming back. Address me by my first name and we’re going to get along just fine. “I’m just out there to do a job and that’s it. I’m calling fairs and fouls, safes and outs. However, Craig knows how teams and players operate. “If you’re not cheating you’re not trying and it’s only cheating when you get caught,” says Craig. “That’s when rules and the reinterpretation comes in. Is it within the spirt of what we’re looking for?” Take the example of all the padding worn by players these days. “There’s more body army than we’ve had ever,” says Craig. “On an inside pitch, they stick that wing out there and — bam! — they’re going to trot down to first base. “Don’t award them a base on that.” Without the armor, players would not be so swift to get in the way of an inside pitch to “wear one.” On the subject of inside pitches. When Craig was 10 he was chosen out of thousands to speak at Bob Gibson’s retirement. Gibson was known for working to the hitter’s side of the plate and intimidating long before elbow pads were a thing. “You didn’t dig in against Bob Gibson,” says Craig. A point of emphasis during the 2022 Indiana high school season included the amount of eye black. “To me it’s a bad look,” says Craig. “It’s nothing but a fashion statement.” In Game 1 of the North/South All-Star Series, Craig was behind the plate when Westfield lefty swinger Keaton Mahan came up in the seventh inning and quickly handed his cell phone to the catcher to take a quick photo with the umpire. “During the regular season, I say ‘get that camera out of here,’” says Craig. “But this was for fun.” In the ninth inning, Ohio State commit Mahan smacked a game-winning grand slam that was estimated to have landed and rolled under a tree about 570 feet from home plate. “He clobbered that thing,” says Craig. “It hit off the house (behind the right field fence) fair.” As for the topic of epic bat flip that’s become so prevalent in baseball, it’s a judgement call on the part of the official when it’s gone too far. “When the bat goes up in the air it becomes a safety issues,” says Craig. “I don’t have a problem with a high school kid showing some enthusiasm. But level of enjoyment must be within the confinements of the rules.” There’s also the issue of sportsmanship, especially with spectators — often parents — who become self-appointed evaluators and are quick to criticize umpires. “Officiating is a thankless profession,” says Craig. “I guarantee somebody is leaving there upset and it’s my fault. “You’re asking for perfection. I’m expected to show up perfect and get better.” He has witnessed a difference between high school baseball and summer travel ball. “Not every kid is going to be the next Derek Jeter, but parents seem to think that and they take it out on officials,” says Craig. “It’s disheartening. “High school baseball and high school sports are taught by teachers who are coaches and there’s built-in respect. It’s not necessarily built-in for travel baseball. “It’s all about me, me, me in the summer as opposed to we, we, we in the spring. We have a set of standards we have to abide by on all sides set by the (National Federation of State High School Associations) and IHSAA. In the summer, it’s a free-for-all.” Not that he wants to paint with a broad brush. “Guys like (Javier DeJesus) and Mark DeLaGarza get it,” says Craig. “I appreciate the job they do for travel baseball.” Craig notes that there were nearly 500 IHSAA baseball games canceled at all levels in 2022 due to the lack of umpires and points to parent/spectator’s inclination to sharply voice their dissenting opinion as a big reason. “If you don’t temper your attitude there will be no officials,” says Craig. “The officials shortage is a nationwide disgrace and it’s not going to get better. “What scares me the most is that when I started the average age (of officials) was 25 or 30,” says Craig. “Now — in most sports — it’s like 50. We’re leaving and there’s nobody behind us.” While he intends to stay longer for football, Craig plans to do one more state tournament rotation for baseball then retire his mask and clicker. He can work as high as the semistate in 2023 and the State Finals in 2024. “That’s enough baseball,” says Craig. That doesn’t mean he regrets his decision to make the calls. “It’s something I treasure and I’m glad I got into it,” says Craig. “I’m not in it for the money. I’m not in it for the fame. “Officiating is wonderful.” Craig did not start his officiating journey in Indiana. He began high school in St. Louis and finished up in Bowling Green, Ky., when his father was transferred to the Corvette plant there. When he was 14 he started umpiring T-ball games. His American Legion coach said he had to do something to give back to the game and umpiring was the only option that paid. After pursuing an academic scholarship at the University of Kentucky, Craig finished college at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. He was IPFW student body president in 1988 and earned a Secondary Education degree but did not go into the classroom. Craig is now a supervisor at Fort Wayne’s at WaterFurnace International (makers of geothermal heating units), where he has worked the past 15 years. He has a 32-year-old daughter — Jocelyn. She graduated from Homestead High School and Indiana University and was chosen as 2009 National Big Brother Big Sister of the Year. She now works in dispatch for the Indiana State Police.
Tracy Smith became a head coach in NCAA Division I baseball at 30. For the next quarter century, the Indiana native taught the game and developed relationships with players, families and others. Smith grew up in Kentland — a small town of less than 2,000 folks in Newton County — learning fundamentals from Donald “Tater” Blankenship and then playing baseball and basketball for Denny Stitz at South Newton High School. Other mentors include (college baseball coach) Jon Pavlisko, (minor league manager and coach) Brad Mills and Bill Harford, (Miami University Middleton basketball coach) Jim Sliger and (father-in-law and former MUM athletic director) Lynn Darbyshire. Tracy and wife Jaime have three sons — Casey (as in Casey At The Bat), Ty (as in Ty Cobb) and Jack (as in Jackie Robinson) — and are grandparents. Smith, who played at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and in the Chicago Cubs system, led programs at Miami Middletown, Miami and Indiana University — taking to the Hoosiers to the College World Series and receiving National Coach of the Year honors in 2013 — before becoming head coach at Arizona State University. Not including the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign, he took the Sun Devils to four NCAA regional appearances in six seasons. His ASU teams won 201 games. In June 2021, Smith was let go at Arizona State. He saw it as an opportunity to focus his energy on a venture called Diamond Allegiance — an organization dedicated to reimagining travel baseball. He had been serving on its board for a couple of years. “I looked at it as my way of giving back to help the game of baseball bigger and more impactful than maybe the 35 guys in the locker room that I’ve coached over my entire career,” says Smith of his reason for diving in full-time with Diamond Allegiance. “I’ve been working hard and pulling in some of my friends. “You’ve got this army of former professional players and big league players that want to give back to the game as well.” Smith, 56, is CEO for Diamond Allegiance and works with an Executive and Advisory Board committee that features current collegiate coaches Erik Bakich (University of Michigan) and Kevin O’Sullivan (University of Florida) and former Oregon State University coach Pat Casey. Matt Gerber is head of player business and development. Two-time softball gold medalist and ESPN analyst Michele Smith is also board member. The OSU Beavers won three CWS titles on Casey’s watch (2006, 2007 and 2018) while O’Sullivan’s Gators reigned in 2017. According to its website, Diamond Allegiance “helps members run better businesses, augments their player development capabilities, provides more career opportunities for coaches, reduces the cost for families/players, and increases participation of underrepresented communities. We generate this impact through a powerful mix of partnerships, services, technology, and philanthropy.” Partners include Canes Baseball, the Indiana Bulls and many more. Says Smith, who grew up playing Babe Ruth ball and for Remington (Ind.) American Legion Post 280: “As a coach you’re always on the receiving end of kids coming up through the travel ball system. I don’t want to say the system was broken because it’s not. People in the travel ball business do an unbelievable job. The industry itself has become more of a showcase/exposure industry and not as much development. “We want to focus on the development piece.” Diamond Allegiance, which was officially launched at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, offers a 12-month development system with text designed by Bakich that is currently not on the market. At Chicago came the first chance for feedback from the baseball industry. High school coaches without access to travel baseball in their areas approached asking if they can tap into Diamond Allegiance resources. “They will have access to a version of what we’re doing,” says Smith. A predictive mechanism powered by CURVE, which creates a score taking into account brain, ball and body data that tells how high a player might go is another Diamond Allegiance perk. Partners receive the ability to reach college conferences and coaches, push content to their coaches and team while building brand and culture. There is also access to top baseball industry leaders and the best tech providers. Sandy Ogg, a CEO developer for Fortune 500 companies who Smith met through former Indiana University senior associate athletic director and current Diamond Sports Foundation CEO Tim Fitzpatrick, is part of Diamond Allegiance. Members get marketing and branding services and assistance with their businesses. “Owners can run better businesses and be more efficient in those practices,” says Smith. “They can make money that they’ll reinvest into creating and providing opportunities for kids who can’t afford to play. “I’m very passionate and have always been very passionate about creating opportunities for kids who can’t be a part of it. When you look at our rosters over time we’ve tried to have a diverse roster. We really made a conscious effort to beat the bushes to find kids to play.” The idea is to provide value and assistance in making important decisions. “I see the amount of money families spend on getting their kid a college scholarship,” says Smith. “On a $5,000 college scholarship they’re spending $20,000 a year. “We want to provide direction. It’s OK to spend that money, but let’s spend it wisely.” Diamond Sports Foundation allows families an opportunity to apply for help to offset or — in some cases — totally fund the travel ball experience. Diamond Allegiance will share knowledge to help guide parents and players through this recruiting process “There’s this myth out there that if you don’t play Power Five baseball (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) that in some way, share or form you have failed. I’ve always hated that,” says Smith. “Anytime I would talk to groups, families and kids I would say every one of you can play beyond high school. There’s a place for you to do that. You just have to find the right fit. “One of the things we’re going to be doing with Diamond Allegiance is giving families and kids true direction so that they can reach their aspiration.” Knowing that others have attempted to do the same thing, Smith addresses question about the Diamond Allegiance difference. “We’ve got a really, really good group of people that are passionate about making this game better,” says Smith, who has been talking with up to 10 travel programs a week. “You have people that are motivated to do right and do well by the game. “It will not fail.” To learn more, visit diamondallegiance.com. To apply for a partnership, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Northeast Indiana is moving toward a large sports facility and baseball will be part of the mix. Auburn Sports Group is bringing Auburn Sports Park — a $42 million 170-acre multi-sport complex plus 90 more acres for retail (restaurants, gas stations, hotels) — to land adjacent once owned by RM Auctions/RM Sotheby’s on the east side of I-69 .1 of a mile off Exit 11A. Auburn Sports Park will be located about 30 miles south of the Indiana-Michigan line on I-69; about 20 miles to the heart of Fort Wayne, Ind.; about 60 miles west of Napoleon, Ohio; about 50 miles northeast of Warsaw, Ind.; about 120 miles southwest of Lansing, Mich.; about 100 miles southeast of Kalamazoo, Mich.; about 130 miles northeast of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind Auburn Sports Group’s leadership team features co-owner Joe Fisher, president/co-order Rod Sinn, vice president/director of basketball Grant Sinn and director of operations/director of outdoor fields Cole Walker. Brett Ratcliffe, assistant baseball coach at Trine University in Angola, Ind., and former head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School, is the director of baseball/softball. Auburn Sports Park is to have eight turf fields suitable for high school/college baseball and softball. “A multi-sport complete in northeast Indiana is something that’s needed,” says Ratcliffe of the place which has already had commitments to bring events to serve athletes from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and beyond. “This is another venue they can go to.” Existing buildings will be used and there will be construction and renovation to bring indoor basketball and volleyball courts and a multi-purpose field for football, soccer and lacrosse. One building will house seven batting cages. In addition, a 2-mile walking trail around the campus is planned as well as a splash pad. “We want to make sure it’s a great experience for kids and a good memory for people who come here,” says Ratcliffe, who expects some of the facility to be ready for events by late summer. Auburn Sports Park will be home to Prospect Select and Crossroads Baseball Series and the site of national championships. Eric Blakeley, who played baseball at Indiana University and in the Seattle Mariners organization, is Crossroads Baseball Series CEO. Jeremy Plexico, former pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Ball State University, is Prospect Select president. Travis Keesling, who played and coached at Pendleton Heights High School, is Crossroads Baseball Series executive vice president. Ratcliffe says entities like the DeKalb County Visitors Bureau have been supportive and other partnerships have been discussed with the World Baseball Academy, Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League and Empowered Sports Club —all based in Fort Wayne — plus the YMCA of DeKalb County in Auburn and Team Pineapple Volleyball Club/Ball Sports Academy of Angola. With its location, Ratcliffe says Auburn Sports Park will be a great place for teams from NCAA D-I, D-II and D-III to NAIA and National Junior College Athletic Association schools to recruit.