Category Archives: Uncategorized

Individual development key as Mercer builds Indiana Hoosiers baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer was once in their shoes.

That’s why he takes the approach he does as a head coach in college baseball.

Mercer, who was hired last summer to run the program at Indiana University, wants to give his players their best chance to showcase what they can do.

With that in mind, Mercer and his staff (Dan Held, Justin Parker, Casey Dykes, Scott Rolen and Denton Sagerman) design their fall practice schedule with individual work first before intrasquad and exhibition games.

“Development has always been the core foundational piece of our coaching philosophy,” says Mercer, who came to the Hoosiers after successful two-season run as head coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “You really need to take the time to coach the players. We want to make sure we put guys in position to maximize their strengths.

“You only get to find those strengths through building the relationships and focusing on the individual development of the players.”

Rolen, director of player development, brings his expertise from 17 Major League Baseball seasons and helped the staff lay out the whole 12-week fall plan. Former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and manager Mike Matheny was consulted on coaching and catching. New York Yankees infield coordinator Miguel Cairo was asked for his guidance.

Talking with players, coaches get to see what the goals and the prism through which they view life and baseball.

“It helps a ton to know where they’re coming from when you’re trying to coach them,” says Mercer.

This is not a new concept with Mercer, who played NCAA Division I baseball at the University of Dayton and Wright State before beginning his coaching career.

“We’ve always done individuals first,” says Mercer, 33. “A lot of programs will do the team portion first. That’s their prerogative. I understand that.

“For us, if I look at it from a young man’s perspective. I want to come in and settle in. I want to get in the weight room, get my body right. I want to learn what your expectations of me are as a player.”

The athletes want to know what is expected of them from mechanical, workload and style/brand of baseball standpoints.

“All of those take a lot of time for a player to understand,” says Mercer. “The player will do whatever the expectation is. They always rise to the occasion.

“So if you take five or six weeks and you give them time and structure and coach them like crazy.”

“If I’m a young man, I want to be at my best when I’m competing and showcasing myself in the fall and earning an opportunity to play in the spring.”

By putting the individual work first in the fall, players can figure out where their classes is and make the necessary physical and mechanical adjustments.

Mercer says fear of failure is taken away through this approach.

“Fear of failure is what holds back the most successful people,” says Mercer. “If I remove the fear of failure, I can just go grow and compete.

“All the lessons we’ve been taught can be applied much more readily into the game.

“At the end of the day, these players have one career. It’s our job to help them maximize their opportunity to play this game.”

Mercer says that’s what he wants for his son if he grows up to play college baseball. Jeff and Stephanie Mercer welcome Grady into the world in June.

What brand of baseball will the Hoosiers play in 2019?

“This team is more offensive and can just flat drive the baseball as opposed to a small-ball style,” says Mercer. “Let’s not take a guy who may hit 15 home runs and try to convince him to bunt for 30 hits.

Let’s let him get into good counts. I want to run the bases, but let’s make sure when we have a guy at the plate who can drive the ball, we don’t take the bat out of his hands. We play in a more offensive ballpark (Bart Kaufman Field’s dimensions are 330 feet down the left field line, 400 to center and 340 to right).”

Based on the fall roster, some of the Hoosiers’ top returning hitters  are juniors Matt Gorski (.356 average, 8 home runs, 40 runs batted in for 2018) and Scotty Bradley (.326/7/19) and seniors Ryan Fineman (.309/7/37), Matt Lloyd (.275/9/41) and Logan Kaletha (.261/8/31).

Outfielder Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate) catcher Fineman (California) and outfielder Kaletha (Michigan City) swing from the right side while infielder/catcher Bradley (New Jersey) and utility player Lloyd (Alberta, Canada) are lefties.

There’s also might in the relief core and not just in the late innings.

“We’ve got more bullpen arms,” says Mercer. “We need to make sure we really use our bullpen to accentuate our starters.

“We have mid-relief guys who are good so let’s make sure we utilize that strength.”

With Mercer being new at IU, he came in with no preconceived ideas about players.

“I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful we were,” says Mercer. “I purposely did not look at any of the stats or video from last year.

“I came in with a blank slate for everybody.”

Mercer has never appointed captains, but lets leadership reveal itself.

“Those personalities step forward on their own and you try to empower them,” says Mercer.

When he transferred from the Dayton to Wright State as a player, the coaching staff did not tell him he could not be a leader because he was the new kid on the block.

“I was very empowered to lead early in my time at Wright State and I felt comfortable in that role,” says Mercer. “A big part of my success was me getting to be myself.

“I hope the guys here feel the freedom to be whoever they want to be now and moving forward.”

Mental skills was important at Wright State where Mercer brought in Diamyn Hall as the first full-time coach in D-I baseball devoted to that side of the game. At IU, mental skills are talked about on a regular basis and Mercer leads most of the discussions.

Mercer, a Franklin Community High School graduate, grew up around the Indiana program. His father, Jeff Mercer Sr., was an assistant for the Hoosiers in 1988 and 1989 and helped found the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

Once the surreal idea of leading a team he cared so much about growing up wore off, Mercer began to focus on the day-to-day task.

“You have an ultimate responsibility to the young men and their families and the coaches that entrusted Indiana University to provide them a great experience,” says Mercer. “It’s an awesome responsibility, but it’s one we don’t ever take lightly.

“You can’t get caught being a fan. You’ve got go to work.”

JEFFMERCERIU

Jeff Mercer is the head baseball coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)

 

BLOOMINGTON, IN - 2018.08.23 - Headshot

New Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer has been spending the time to develop individuals this fall.  (Indiana University Photo)

 

Advertisements

Building a winning culture a priority for Ambrose, Heritage Christian Eagles

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In more than two decades guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Ambrose has learned that the X’s and O’s are important.

But in the last decade of so, Ambrose has begun to place his emphasis on building and maintaining a winning culture. He wants opponents to notice the way his Eagles go about warming up, how they hustle on and off the field and how they treat each other.

“That’s a big part of my coaching now,” says Ambrose. “I want to have a culture that is strong and healthy.”

The 2019 season will mark Ambrose’s 23rd at Heritage Christian School on the northeast side Indianapolis. He spent his first two seasons as junior varsity coach. Before that, the Cleveland, Ohio, native spent three seasons at Heritage Christian in Milwaukee.

Ambrose’s Indy-based program has won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) while always being competitive in the Circle City Conference (which along includes 3A Brebeuf Jesuit, 2A Covenant Christian, 3A Guerin Catholic, 3A Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and 4A Roncalli).

Heritage Christian (a pre-kindergarten through senior school with a current enrollment about 460 in the top four grades) has appeared in the last three city championship games against Indianapolis Cathedral, winning once.

Ambrose, who also teaches social studies at the high school level, has used different key words over the years and currently centers his team philosophy around the acronym E-A-G-L-E-S.

E — Each other.

A — Attitude.

G — God first.

L — Little things are Big things.

E — Effort.

S — Service to others.

The idea is to be both competitive between the while lines while still embracing and displaying Christian values.

“If you don’t care about winning, it’s easy,” says Ambrose. “But can i hold onto to my Christian character traits in the midst of an intense competitive situation?”

Ambrose had this in twins David and Ryan Ledbetter, who helped Heritage Christian to a football state title in the fall of 2008 and baseball state championships in the spring of 2009 and 2010.

First acquainted with the Lebetter boys as junior high youth group members at church, Ambrose later got to coach them when they transferred from Hamilton Southeastern to Heritage Christian after their sophomore year.

The Eagles go on a Dominican Republic mission trip every other year and the Ledbetters went that first year and bonded with their new teammates.

“We were a good team without them,” says Ambrose. “We were a great team with them.

“They were the icing on the cake.”

Both twins went to Cedarville (Ohio) University — Ambrose’s alma mater — and then pitched in the Texas Rangers organization. Ryan pitched through 2016, David through 2018.

“They were high energy, which can drive a coach crazy,” says Ambrose of the Ledbetter twins. “But I’d much rather pull back on a thoroughbred than kick a mule.

“They added that winning edge. Their teammates loved them.”

Team building is also done through a World Series party (scheduled for Friday, Oct. 26) and a leadership retreat for juniors and seniors and other events.

Looking ahead to the 2019 season, Ambrose sees a young team with plenty of freshmen and sophomores in the mix. The Eagles will field two high school teams — varsity and junior varsity.

With Rob Barber going to part-time status, he is looking for another top varsity assistant to pair with Nick Hibner, who is also head JV coach. Gary Vaughan is a JV assistant. Bryan Baker heads up the middle school program (Grades 7-8) with help from Jonathan Baker and Travis Willman.

Ambrose does have a veteran returning in Cooper Williams. The senior right-hander has already verbally committed to Xavier University in Cincinnati.

In order to get him used to being a college closer, Ambrose is thinking of using Williams in short starting stints of about 35 to 50 pitches, where he can use all his arsenal in the first inning if he so chooses.

Circle City Conference games are played at Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series. CCC coaches have been talking about adding an end-of-season conference tournament.

With the help of director of athletics Michelle York, Ambrose builds a non-conference schedule that includes as many sectional opponents as possible (HC is grouped with Eastern Hancock, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central) plus neighboring rival Park Tudor as well as Faith Christian, Liberty Christian and Traders Point Christian.

Dan Ambrose graduated from Parma (Ohio) Senior High School in 1989, where he played for varsity coach Conrad Pokorski and JV coach Tim Tomc (who later took over the Redmen varsity).

Ambrose credits Tomc for teaching him the importance of an organized, focused practice.

“Baseball wasn’t just taking BP while people stood in the outfield,” says Ambrose. “(Tomc) was very structured.”

A full-squad Heritage Christian practice usually features multiple stations with players doing something different at each one.

“Every minute, every kid is doing something,” says Ambrose. “(Baseball coaches) gained a lot from football coaches. With so many kids in football, you have to be organized.”

During the fall, Ambrose had about eight or 10 players two hours two days a week to get in individual skill work while others were occupied with a fall sport. The same will be true in the winter, when the IHSAA practice window re-opens the first week of December.

“I encourage guys to play another sport,” says Ambrose.

Heritage Christian plays its game on-campus. A few years ago, a clubhouse was built near the baseball field and the net backstop — higher than the previous fence — was added last year.

“We lose a lot of foul balls in the neighborhood,” says Ambrose, who raises money for the upgrades through donations, the sale of hats and the Heritage Christian Youth Baseball League.

Started about a dozen years ago, the league for pre-K through fourth grade meets twice a week in the summer on the HC softball field. It is coach-pitch and score is not kept.

“My main goal is to allow kids to get a taste of baseball and realize how fun it can be,” says Ambrose. “If I’ve them them well and they keep playing, I hope they’ll come back to me in the seventh grade.”

Most seasons, the majority of Heritage Christian’s high school players take part in summer travel baseball.

“There’s a big difference when a kid plays the game all summer long,” says Ambrose. “His instincts are better.”

Dan and Amy Ambrose (a Brownsburg, Ind., native who went to Bethesda Christian) have three baseball-playing sons.

Jadon Ambrose is a freshman at Cedarville. Seth Ambrose is a 6-foot-6 sophomore first baseman. Will Ambrose is in the sixth grade.

Coaching for USAthletic (a travel organization started by Barber), Ambrose began coaching Jadon in the summers when he was in junior high and plans to do the same with Will’s 12U team next summer.

Ambrose’s rule of thumb with travel ball is one out-of-town tournament per season.

Heritage Christian graduate Joey Butz is also joined the college baseball world with Huntington (Ind.) University.

DANAMBROSE

Dan Ambrose is the head baseball coach at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. His Eagles have won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) during his tenure. (Heritage Christian School Photo)

 

Manes wants Warsaw Tigers to play with sense of urgency

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Manes says he wants his Warsaw (Ind.) Community High School baseball team to “play with a purpose.”

That’s what Manes says after being hired as the program’s head coach. He spent the past four seasons as a volunteer varsity assistant.

“We want to play with effort and sense of urgency,” says Manes. “We can’t be afraid to fail.”

While Drake Graham and Liam Patton are expected to return and make college baseball commitment, Manes also looks for underclassmen to fight for some playing sports in the spring.

“I don’t care if you’re a ninth grader. I don’t care if you’re a senior,” says Manes. “If you can play, you can play. I want the best.

“There’s no reason Warsaw — year in and year out — can’t be a program others look up to.”

Being with the team that past four years, Manes comes in with a sense of familiarity.

“In know all the guys,” says Manes. “We’ve definitely laid a foundation.”

Looking to build a relationship with younger baseball players in the community, Manes has made it a point to be visible at Warsaw Little League’s fall session.

“We want to a strong relationship,” says Manes of the league that plays near Boggs Industrial Park. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much your care. We want to be visible.

“We want to teach them how we do it at the high school level.”

This past summer, the Little League had Junior League for ages 13 and 14, but lacked enough 15- and 16-year-olds for a Senior League.

Manes says if he can instill the “Tiger Way” to players before they get to high school, he will not have to spend as much time re-teaching them certain things.

His opportunity to join the high school staff came from Mike Hepler and Manes is grateful.

Hepler coached the Tigers the past 13 seasons, for bringing him on to his staff. The two knew each other from playing adult baseball together years ago with the Warsaw Indians.

Warsaw belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Wawasee).

The NLC plays 14 double round-robin games to establish its champion.

Warsaw, coming off a 2018 season in which it was 7-17 overall and 3-11 in the conference, is in a seven-team 4A sectional grouping with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge and Penn. The Tigers last won sectional titles in 2006 and 2010.

Warsaw expects to play non-conference contests against Columbia City, Elkhart Central, Fort Wayne Carroll, Huntington North, Kokomo, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Riley and Tippecanoe Valley.

Three players from the Warsaw Class of 2018 — Jared Hawley, Mike Nunez and Matt Shapiro — planned to play college baseball.

A new sprinkler system went in this fall at Tiger Field. On the wish list is lights.

“We’re the only athletic facility on-campus without lights,” says Manes. “It prevents us from hosting sectional. But I know you can’t have everything at once.”

Manes works as a financial advisor at 1st Source Bank in Warsaw.

His Tigers assistants are John Edwards and Adam Augustine with the varsity as well as Eric Lane and Aaron Christenberry with the junior varsity.

Augustine played at Warsaw and was an NCAA Division III All-American at Manchester University in 2005. Christenberrry played at WCHS and Grace College in Winona Lake, which is adjacent to Warsaw.

Manes (pronounced MAN-us) played for four seasons (1997-2000) at Grace College. As a catcher, first baseman and designated hitter, he made his way onto Lancers Top 10 lists for career hits (140), career runs batted in (110), career doubles (30), career home runs (11), single-season runs (33 in 1999), single-season RBIs (38 in 1998) and single-season doubles (11 in 1999).

After his college playing days, 2000 Grace graduate Manes turned down an offer to try out with the independent Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs.

Glenn Johnson, who was then the Grace head coach, drove 10 hours to recruit Manes out of Lincoln. He convinced the 1996 Lincoln Christian High School graduate to come to northern Indiana.

A small school, Lincoln Christian plays American Legion baseball in the summer. Manes played Legion ball from his eighth grade through senior years and was a part of district championship teams each year and two state runner-up finishes. Andy’s father, Mike Manes, was his head coach.

Andy is the oldest of Mike and Connie Manes’ four children. All of them went to Lincoln Christian and then to college athletics.

Second son Tony Manes played baseball at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and is now a chiropractor.

Daughter Michelle Manes played volleyball at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark.

Third son Aaron played baseball at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill. By this time, Mike Manes had become head coach of the Trojans. Since the 2008 season, he has been leading the baseball program at Cedarville (Ohio) University.

Andy and wife Jennifer Manes celebrated two years of marriage in 2018. Their large blended family includes Jacob Rios (Trinity International freshman football player), Braden Rios (Lakeview Middle School eighth grader), Michael Manes (Lincoln Elementary sixth grader), Sophia Rios (Jefferson Elementary third grader) and Luca Manes (Washington Elementary third grader).

WARSAWTIGERS

ANDYMANES

After four years as a volunteer varsity assistant, Andy Manes is now head baseball coach at Warsaw (Ind.) Community High School. He played at Grace College in nearby Winona Lake, Ind. (Warsaw Community High School Photo)

 

LHP Herrin goes from South Vigo to IU to Indians system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Just a few years ago, he was throwing touchdown passes in the fall.

This year, he’s going to college classes and looking back on his first professional baseball season.

Tim Herrin Jr. — he answers to Timmy — was an all-state quarterback at Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School where father Tim Herrin Sr. is a dean and head football coach.

Timmy helped the Braves win IHSAA Class 5A sectional and Conference Indiana titles in his final prep football season (2014).

Herrin was a three-sport athlete at South Vigo, earning four letters in baseball, three in football and two in basketball.

A left-handed pitcher, Herrin helped the Braves win the 2013 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference baseball championship.

In the midst of Herrin’s prep career, there was a change from the MIC to Conference Indiana. He was an all-CI and all-Wabash Valley selection as a senior as he went 6-2 with one save and a 2.33 ERA. He fanned 50 batters in 42 innings while playing for head coach Kyle Kraemer.

A first-team all-stater and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star for South Vigo in 1986, Kraemer went on to play at Purdue. He was the Boilermakers team captain and home run leader (10) as a senior.

After graduation, he began passing along his knowledge as a coach.

“It was good to have a high school coach who had an idea of what it took to make it to the next level,” says Herrin of Kraemer. “He prepared us for that.”

Herrin was attracted to Indiana University by former Hoosiers head coach Chris Lemonis (now head coach at Mississippi State) and worked closely with former IU pitching coach Kyle Bunn (now associate head coach and pitching coach at Middle Tennessee State).

The southpaw appreciated that Lemonis was a straight shooter during the recruiting process.

“He was straight up,” says Herrin of Lemonis. “Other coaches tell you what you want to hear.

“He did a good job of telling it how it is. You saw how genuine of a guy he is. I wanted to come play for him. I knew I could trust him.”

Herrin credits Bunn for molding him as a moundsman.

(Bunn) helped me focus on what makes somebody a pitcher,” says Herrin. “I was really raw coming into school. I had never focused on one specific sport. Until the end of my junior year, I did not think about playing college baseball. I was not recruited.

“I became a more mature pitcher faster (with Bunn). It was how he would explain things.”

In three seasons in Cream and Crimson (2016-18), Herrin made 41 mound appearances (23 as a starter) with a combined 3.44 earned run average. In 120 innings, he struck out 80 and walked 46.

He also played two summers in wood bat leagues — Amsterdam (N.Y.) Mohawks (Perfect Game League) in 2016 and Harwich (Mass.) Mariners (Cape Cod Baseball League) in 2017.

Herrin, a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder, was selected in the 29th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Indians.

Assigned to the Arizona League Indians 1 team (college signees), the lefty got into 13 games (all in relief) with the rookie-level Arizona League Indians 1 squad and went 0-1 with a 6.16 ERA. In 19 innings, he struck out 22 and walked eight. His manager was Larry Day. His pitching coach was Joel Mangrum.

Herrin throws a fastball (mostly two-seamers with a few four-seamers mixed in), slider and “circle” change-up. During the summer, he touched 95 mph a few times and sat at 90 to 92 with his heater.

During the college season, he lowered his three-quarter overhand arm angle.

“The ball comes out easier,” says Herrin of the adjustment.

He might have gone to fall instructional camp or a developmental camp in November, but Herrin is back at IU taking classes toward his sports management and marketing degree. After this term, he will be just six major credits and an internship from completion.

Herrin does plan to attend a month of camp in Goodyear, Ariz., in January. He will come back to Terre Haute for a few weeks then return for spring training.

The next stops on the Indians minor league circuit are Mahoning Valley (Short Season Class-A), Lake County (Low-A), Lynchburg (High-A), Akron (Double-A) and Columbus (Triple-A).

Born in Munster, Ind., Herrin moved to Terre Haute as a toddler. His parents — Tim and Cathy — met as students at Indiana State University.  His mother is a family consumer science teacher at West Vigo High School in West Terre Haute.

Timmy has three younger brothers. Carter Herrin is a freshman football player at Indiana State. Trey Herrin is a freshman footballer at South Vigo. Christopher Herrin is a sixth grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.

Travis Herrin, a Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate who is now a pitcher in the Los Angeles Angels organization, is no relation.

The Cal Ripken Baseball-aligned Riley Recreation League in Terre Haute is where Timmy played his first organized baseball. He began playing for travel teams around 11. In high school, he was part of the Wayne Newton American Legion Post 346 program.

TIMMYHERRINIU

Timmy Herrin, a Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School graduate, played for three seasons with Indiana University before going into pro baseball. (Indiana University Photo)

TIMMYHERRIN

Timmy Herrin, a 2015 Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School graduate who pitched three seasons at Indiana University, gets set to throw a pitch during the 2018 season for the Arizona League Indians. Herrin was selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Indians. (Arizona League Indians Photo)

 

Weir now running show for Kokomo Wildkats

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tim Weir coaches baseball with emotion.

Speakers just might not see or hear it.

“I look laid back,” says Weir. “I’m pretty intense. I don’t scream and yell.

“I’m what you would call quietly competitive. I’m definitely there to win. I’m definitely there to compete. I just don’t get too loud.”

Weir was recently named head baseball coach at Kokomo (Ind.) High School after serving the past two seasons as Wildkats pitching coach.

Kokomo, with Sean Swan as head coach, went 41-14 combined in 2017 and 2018. The Kats won the North Central Conference title in 2018.

Weir, a 1982 Kokomo graduate who played for coaches Carl McNulty and Mike Smith, saw eight players graduate last spring. Among those were several four-year varsity players.

The Kats sent pitchers Jack Perkins (Louisville), Kyle Wade (Purdue) and Bayden Root (Ohio State) on to NCAA Division baseball. Noah Hurlock (Indiana University Kokomo) and Nate Hemmerich (Earlham) also went on to college diamonds.

The past two springs, Weir worked with pitchers that already had plenty of talent and applied what he knows from working with his son T.J. (a 2010 Kokomo graduate who pitches in the San Diego Padres organization).

“We got those guys to understand the mental side of it and how to prepare,” says Weir, who will continue to handle pitching coach duties.

Junior right-hander Charez Butcher and sophomore catcher Jayden Armfield are experienced Kokomo returnees.

The 6-foot-5 Butcher has a fastball in the mid-90s and has gotten plenty of attention from big-time college programs.

Many of the other Kats are talented, but have not been tested at the varsity level.

“We’ve been focusing on fundamentals,” says Weir. “We’re trying to get them up to speed as quickly as possible.”

A new IHSAA rule allowed coaches to practice with their teams for two hours a day two days a week for a a window in the fall. That window closed Oct. 12.

Weir was hired during that time.

“We got a lot done in three weeks,” says Weir, who has a number of two-sport athletes in his baseball program (football, soccer and tennis players in the fall and basketball players and wrestlers in the winter).

He looks forward to the practice window opening again the first week of December.

Weir’s staff includes returning coaches Nick Shanks, Isaac Turner, Matt Turner and George Phares. John Curl comes aboard a hitting coach.

Shanks has coached the Kats for more than a decade. Isaac Turner played at Kokomo and then Anderson University. He is the son of Matt Turner. Phares, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, looks to be Weir’s bench coach.

Curl was a three-time all-state player at Logansport High School, helping the Berries to a state title in 1991 while earning the L.V. Phillips Mental Atttitude Award. He was an All-American and College World Series participant at Texas A&M and played seven seasons of professional baseball.

Weir began coaching when T.J. started playing youth baseball and coached him all the way through high school at the travel ball level. Tim took time off when T.J. was in high school and college (Ball State University).

Father and son have been conducting lessons for teams and individuals during the fall and winter the past five years.

Kokomo is in the West Division of the North Central Conference along with Harrison, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon. The East Division features Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond.

Teams play home-and-home series on weekdays within their divisions. A seeded tournament comes at the end of the season.

While the 2019 schedule has not yet been posted, the Kats have played non-conference games against Marion and Muncie Central as well as Howard County foes Northwestern and Western. There were also games against Brebeuf Jesuit, Huntington North, Norwell, Warsaw, Westfield and Zionsville and games against out-of-state competition in the Prep Baseball Report Classic at Grand Park in Westfield in 2018.

Kokomo plans to field three teams again next spring — varsity and two junior varsity squads (Blue and Red).

Home games and practices are conducted on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

“You can’t beat the facility,” says Weir. “I don’t recall us getting rained out last year.”

Youth baseball in and around town is alive and well, especially for younger players.

The ever-popular “city” tournament typically draws a big crowd at the finals.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” says Weir, noting that T.J. was on the winning team at age 11.

The eight teams feeding into the tournament are Kokomo’s Eastside, Northside, Southside and UCT with county parks Greentown, Northwestern, Russiaville and Taylor also sending teams.

Also feeding the Kokomo Wildkats are the combined seventh and eighth grade squads that play in the spring.

Weir has noticed a substantial drop-off in participation for players in the middle school years.

“That’s one of the challenges I have,” says Weir. “The majority of our kids don’t play travel ball.

“They get into high school and don’t know the fundamentals like they would know in some of the better travel programs.”

Since 2017, Indiana has had a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“It hasn’t impacted us in the last two years,” says Weir. “We had a lot of arms. The maximum pitch count has never come into play for us.

“When T.J. played, pitchers routinely pitched the whole game. Kids aren’t programmed to do that anymore.”

To get his pitchers more innings, Weir can see times when he may use multiple arms in a game.

He’s also observed something from watching T.J. — a reliever in all but 22 of his 173 pro appearances.

“It’s whole lot easier to throw one good inning than three,” says Weir.

A software developer for the last 32 years, Weir is employed by DXC Technology. Working from home, he has the flexibility to start his work day early to accommodate baseball.

Tim’s wife, Shelly, is a fourth grade teacher in Kokomo. Daughter Whitney, a twin to T.J., was a cheerleader, volleyball player and track athlete at Kokomo and is now a software developer for Liberty Mutual and lives near Carmel, Ind.

IMG_20190319_152544

TIMWEIR

Tim Weir, a 1982 Kokomo High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. He served the past two seasons at Wildkats pitching coach.

Former Delta, Indiana State, Louisville hurler Conway begins pro career in White Sox system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gaining confidence and maturity have gone a long way in helping Austin Conway along his baseball journey, which has taken him into professional baseball as a right-handed pitcher in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Conway played for head coach Terry Summers at Delta High School near Muncie, Ind., where he graduated in 2013.

“He taught you how to carry yourself on the field and have a lot of composure,” says Conway of Summers. “I was very immature as a freshman. I had a lot of growing up to do. Having him around really helped.”

From Delta, where current Cowan High School head coach Ryan Conwell was an assistant, Conway took his talents to Terre Haute to play for Indiana State University. That’s where he got to work with Sycamores head coach Mitch Hannahs and pitching coach Jordan Tiegs.

“I was very raw coming out of high school,” says Conway. “I lacked at knowing the game. (Hannahs) was hard on me. But he wanted to get the most out of me.

“He helped me with the mental side. He made me grow up and become a much better baseball player.

Conway learned that college baseball moves at a faster clip than high school.

“(Hannahs) would take me to the side and slow me down,” says Conway. “He gave me tough love when I needed that, too.”

Conway figured out how to understand and control situations. He would figure out what was working for him that day and what was not.

He found out that sometimes the situation calls for finesse.

“You can’t blow it by everybody,” says Conway, 23.

Tiegs came on board for Conway’s sophomore season.

“He helped me on the confidence side,” says Conway of Tiegs. “The first bullpen he saw, I threw was really good. He was very relatable, easy to trust and get close to.

“He was really big on the health and mechanics side of pitching.”

Tiegs, who pitched at Sauk Valley Community College and the College of Charleston, implemented a weighted ball program/velocity program that helped develop mechanics and velocity.

Conway took to it and saw results.

“I started pounding the zone more,” says Conway, who played four seasons for ISU (2014-17) with the 2016 season shortened to six appearances and 15 2/3 innings because of a shoulder injury. He received a medical redshirt for the year.

The righty came back in 2017 and was named second team all-Missouri Valley Conference after going 2-1 with 12 saves, a 2.97 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and 11 walks over 33 1/3 innings and 28 appearances (all in relief). When he was done at ISU, he ranked No. 2 on the career saves list with 20.

When Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft offers did not meet Conway’s standards, he though he was done with baseball.

But his coach with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod Baseball League — Harvey Shapiro — made a call to friend Dan McDonnell, head coach at the University of Louisville.

McDonnell extended an invitation to Conway, who was approved for a fifth year of eligibility.

He also enrolled in Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law.

Juggling law school and baseball, Conway posted a 3-1 record with two saves, a 2.21 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 17 walks in 24 innings and 20 appearances (all out of the bullpen) in 2018.

“It was incredible,” says Conway of his U of L experience. “It’s one of the best programs with one of the best head coaches in the country.

“(McDonnell) expects so much from his players and coaches. He’s very demanding.

“But he’ll respect you, if you respect him.”

Louisville pitching coach Roger Williams did not try to change much about the well-established Conway.

“He was more hands off with me as a fifth-year guy,” says Conway. “It was cool to see how he operated with the young guys.

“(With all pitchers,) he made sure the confidence was there.”

Conway was getting his four-seam fastball up to 95 mph with the Cardinals and regularly sat at 91 to 95. In pro ball, he was at 90 to 93. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, he also employs a “circle” change-up and “spiked” curveball (which looks more like a slurve).

The White Sox selected Conway in the 31st round of the 2018 draft and split his first pro campaign between the Arizona League White Sox and Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers.

Two other Indiana products — Logan Sowers and Michael McCormick — also played for Great Falls in 2018.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was a combined 8-6 with two saves and a 3.00 ERA. In 46 games (all in relief) and 71 1/3 innings, he struck out 64 and walked 28.

Comparing NCAA Division I to rookie-level pro baseball, Conway saw parallels in talent. Though the minors is sprinkled with raw Latin players with loads of potential.

A double major in criminal justice and political science/legal studies at ISU, Conway completed his first year of law school at the U of L. He says his law studies will be on hold while he is pursuing his baseball career.

Born in Muncie, Conway played his early baseball around Albany, Ind., and Middletown, Ind. He was on the Shenandoah all-star team.

A football player, the only summer he really played travel baseball was with Muncie American League Post 19 Chiefs going into his senior year at Delta.

Austin’s father (Steve Conway) lives in Albany. His mother and stepfather (Brooke and James Runyon) are in Rockford, Ill. He has two stepbrothers (Jeff Dobbs and Josh Dunsmore) a half-brother (Dustin Runyon) and half-sister (Caitlin Runyon).

Using some of the exercises he learned from Tiegs at Indiana State, Austin plans to split time between Illinois and Indiana while working out and getting his arm ready to go to spring training in Arizona in early March.

1539738231938929769994.jpg

Austin Conway pitched at Indiana State University from 2014-17. (Indiana State University Photo)

1539738195265915736664.jpg

Austin Conway pitched at the University of Louisville in 2018. (University of Louisville Photo)

15397383353221735901072.jpg

Juggling law school and baseball, Delta High School graduate Austin Conway posted a 3-1 record with two saves, a 2.21 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 17 walks in 24 innings and 20 appearances (all out of the bullpen) in 2018. (University of Louisville Photo)

AUSTINCONWAY

Austin Conway, a graduate of Delta High School near Muncie, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute, played one season at the University of Louisville and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2018. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

 

Mental toughness helps Roncalli grad, current Rays minor leaguer Schnell

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It used to burn Nick Schnell when his every at-bat didn’t produce a hit.

He expected to catch every fly.

Then the Indianapolis-born Schnell encountered Roncalli High School head baseball coach Aaron Kroll.

“He helped me a ton on the mental side of the game,” says Schnell of Kroll. “Baseball’s a game of failure. He told me, ‘just believe in yourself’ and ‘ don’t get down on yourself because of one bad at-bat.’”

Kroll encouraged Schnell to become one of the Rebels’ vocal leaders and lead by example by always playing hard.

Schnell responded by helping Roncalli to an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a sophomore in 2016 and solid seasons in 2017 and 2018.

The lefty-swinging center fielder enjoyed a monster senior season, hitting .535 with 15 home runs and 37 runs batted in for a 25-6 club that won Marion County and Ben Davis Sectional titles.

“I knew I had the capability to do that my senior year,” says Schnell. “I got on a roll and felt really good.

“I tried to repeat the same thing I was doing. I was playing with a lot of confidence.”

At one particularly red-hot stretch, Schnell went 12-for-15 at the plate with seven homers.

Schnell’s head-turning 2018 season ended in the first round of the Decatur Central Regional with a show of respect from Indianapolis Cathedral.

Leading 6-2 with two outs in the seventh inning with bases loaded for Roncalli and Schnell coming to the plate, the Irish intentionally walked the slugger and wound up with a 6-3 win.

Schnell earned Mr. Baseball honors from the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and was Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the Indianapolis Star Player of the Year.

He had verbally committed to play at the University of Louisville during his sophomore season and signed with the Cardinals as a senior.

But with Roncalli’s season winding down and the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft looming, Nick had a decision to make.

“My parents (Jay and Angie Schnell) and I sat down and talked about it,” says Nick. “The professional route is the best for me to create a good career.”

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Schnell as a compensatory first-round draft pick (No. 32 overall) and sent him to their rookie-level Gulf Coast League team in Florida.

Right away, he saw a contrast in high school and pro baseball.

“The biggest difference was consistent velocity I saw (in the minors),” says Schnell. “I saw guys in the mid-90s, even 100. In high school, they were 80 to 85 and every once in awhile you’d see 90.”

While rookie league pitchers were working to control their stuff, even their sliders and curves would come in at 85 mph.

Schnell says it took him a little over a week to make the adjustment.

“It comes with adapting to the game,” says Schnell. “When you see it everyday it becomes second nature to you. It was a daily thing you knew was coming.”

Playing mostly center fielder and some right, the 18-year-old hit .239 with one homer and four RBIs and was 2-for-6 in stolen base attempts in 19 games. His season was cut short in late July with a small stress fracture in his wrist.

“It was a freak thing,” says Schnell. “It came from overuse.”

Rather than rush him back at the end of the season, the Rays let Schnell heal so he could participate in the fall instructional league.

He spent a month in Florida making up for time lost during the summer.

“My main focus was really developing more as a ballplayer — get some at-bats back and getting better in the outfield and getting a better jump on stolen bases.”

School was planning to study sports psychology at Louisville and he gravitated toward Rays minor league mental skills coordinator James Schwabach, who suggesting reading books like “Grit: A Complete Guide on Being Mentally Tough” by James Clear.

The lanky Schnell (he is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds) considers versatility to be his strengths.

“I use my athleticism in all three outfield positions,” says Schnell, who was a starter in center for four seasons at Roncalli while hitting .473 with 25 homers and 109 RBIs. “I have all-fields hitting ability. I can hit to the opposite field or pull side.

“I’m not pull heavy. I use the whole field.”

Nick, the youngest of Jay and Amy Schnell’s three children, comes from an athletic family. His mother played volleyball at Kankakee Community College, where she met her future husband.

Oldest child Aaron Schnell (Roncalli Class of 2014) was three-time all-county in high school and played baseball at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Bailey Schnell (Roncalli ’15) played volleyball for the Rebels and then Western Michigan University.

Nick considers his father and brother as his biggest mentors.

“My dad got my brother and I into sports at an early age,” says Nick. “My brother is five years older. I followed him everywhere.”

Nick Schnell, who attended St. Roch Catholic School in Indianapolis Grades K-8, was a three-sport athlete through eighth grade (football, basketball, baseball). He played basketball his first two years in high school before deciding to concentrate on baseball.

Southport Little League on the south side of Indianapolis is where Schnell got his baseball start. He played there until he was 12.

Travel baseball teams included the Scott Schreiber-coached Blue Wave (a group of Roncallli-bound players) his 13U summer, the Dalton Jones-coached Indiana Twins (14U) and Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws (15U).

Schnell donned the uniform of the Indiana Bulls for two summers, playing for coaches Dan Held (16U) and Sean Laird (17U).

He spent two falls with Team Indiana and participated in an elite tournament in Jupiter, Fla., leading into his sophomore and junior years at Roncalli.

In the summer of 2017, Schnell was selected for the Perfect Game All-Star Classic in San Diego.

NICKSCHNELLCLIFFWELCHPHOTOGRAPHY

Nick Schnell, a 2018 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, bats for the Gulf Coast Rays in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Schnell was selected No. 32 overall in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. (Cliff Welch Photography)