VanOeveren, Hamilton Heights Huskies ready to go

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A former all-Big Ten Conference and professional infielder was hired in the fall of 2019 as head coach of the baseball program at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind., and was getting the Huskies ready when the 2020 season was placed on hold and — eventually — canceled because of the pandemic.

Ryan VanOeveren, who was a standout at the University of Michigan and was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 26th round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, is now leading some Hamilton Heights players through twice-a-week IHSAA Limited Contact paces and is optimistic to really get rolling in 2021.

The Huskies have also been conditioning for the spring.

“It’s been pretty good,” says VanOeveren. “There’s been a good turnout. The kids have good attitudes and are hungry to get back on the field.

“We met Monday and the intensity level went up.”

VanOeveren, who was an assistant at Otsego (Mich.) High School after his playing career and more recently a coach in the Indiana Primetime Baseball travel organization, places an emphasis on fundamentals. Defense and pitching will be important to the Huskies.

“Making the routine plays on defense is absolutely critical to playing successful baseball,” says VanOeveren. “It’s about executing the fundamentals of the game.

“We’re building guys on the mound — Knowing when to push the envelope and when to back off. They’ve responded really well.”

Hamilton Heights (enrollment around 750) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western).

The Huskies are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Hamilton Heights has won two sectional titles — 2006 and 2012.

Recent Hamilton Heights graduates playing college baseball include Sam Fulton (Chattanooga, Tenn., State Community College), Alex Hewitt (Butler University in Indianapolis), Ike Peterson (Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) and Reese Wills (Marian University in Indianapolis. VanOeveren says some current players are weighting their options.

“Recruiting is challenging for everybody because of COVID,” says VanOeveren. “I was recruited to numerous schools all over the Midwest. My advice: Don’t select the school just based upon baseball.

“Baseball comes to an end at some point for all of us.”

A 1991 graduated of Grandville (Mich.) High School near Grand Rapids, VanOeveren was initially recruited by Michigan assistant Ted Mahan (who went on to be head coach at Michigan State University) and Wolverines head coach Bill Freehan got involved near the end of the process. VanOeveren committed in May of his senior year.

VanOeveren knew about Freehan’s catching with the Detroit Tigers, but was at school in Ann Arbor when he learned about his exploits in baseball and football at Michigan.

“Coach Freehan was a genuinely caring person,” says VanOeveren. “He’d give you the shirt off his back.”

In his first fall, shortstop VanOeveren got to take infield instruction from volunteer assistant Moby Benedict

“Moby made me such a better infielder,” says VanOeveren.

Other U-M assistants during his career included Ace Adams and Steve Merriman.

“Ace was great to be around,” says VanOeveren. “He would not hesitate to get on you, but we were better for it.”

VanOeveren counted Merriman, who is expected to return to Michigan as pitching coach for 2021, as a friend back then and today.

“He’s a quality human being,” says VanOeveren of Merriman. “He shows that he cares about you if you work hard for him. 

“The baseball stuff falls into place after that.”

VanOeveren went to Michigan as an undersized player and continued to work.

“I was fortunate to have coaches that were patient for me growing up,” says VanOeveren.

After a strong junior season in 1994, teammates voted outfielder Rodney Goble and infielder VanOeveren as co-captains for 1995.

“It lead by example,” says VanOeveren. “I was not that verbal.”

As an Expos minor leaguer, VanOeveren played 49 games for the 1995 Class-A Albany (Ga.) Polecats. Several future big leaguers were on the team — among them Vladimir Guerrero, Brad Fullmer and Javier Vazquez.

VanOeveren was invited to spring training in 1996. At the end of camp, he was not assigned to a team as an infielder but was given the option of transitioning to a pitcher.

“I had a little too much pride back then,” says VanOeveren. “I asked for my release.”

VanOeveren went back to finish his college degree and moved on.

He was at Otsego for two seasons then did not coach again until the late 2010’s. By this time he had moved to central Indiana.

As an Indiana Primetime coach, VanOeveren gets to work with Quentin Brown and Ryan Cole and his players get to train at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.

“(Indiana Primetime) is good to the kids at Hamilton Heights, giving them the opportunity to play really competitive baseball,” says VanOeveren.  “I love Finch Creek. We’re spoiled getting access to that place.

“We’re very fortunate to live in this area and have those opportunities.”

Besides VanOeveren, the 2021 Husky coaching staff features varsity assistants Brian Clancy and Brad Pitts, junior varsity head coach Adam Hughes and JV assistant Cole Meyer. Clancy, who played at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., was on the 2000 staff. Pitts, who had coached at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, is a newcomer to Hamilton Heights.

Husky Ballpark has received laser-leveling and upgrades to the irrigation system from Marschand’s Athletic Field Service and a new backstop is going up. VanOeveren says new dugouts and other improvements could come this summer.

Ryan VanOeveren is head baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Brad Pitts is an assistant bseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Cole Meyer is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.
Brian Clancy is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.
Adams Hughes is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Bethel U. graduate Thompson leads MidAmerica Nazarene baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2021 college baseball season will mark the 15th as head coach for Ryan Thompson at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.

Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.

As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.

“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”

Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.

In the fall of 1995, Thompson was a 17-year-old walk-on at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where the Blue Knights head coach was — and still is — Dennis Conley.

“He was a great coach,” says Thompson of Conley. “He was intense and demanding. It helped me grow up and mature.”

Familiar with area junior college baseball from his time at Southern Illinois University, Riggleman recruited Thompson to Bethel.

“I love Sam,” says Thompson. “We still talk frequently.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggleman has been on several Zoom calls with the MidAmerica Nazarene coaching staff.

Thompson recalls Riggleman as a fierce yet caring coach.

“Sam left the benchmark in my mind,” says Thompson. “I remember what the practices were like. 

“(Players) really respected him.”

Among his Pilots teammates were Indiana high school products Craig Sherwood (Elkhart Central), Jeremie Riggleman (Mishawaka), Seth Zartman (Caston), Brian Blondell (South Bend Washington), Ryan Takach (Penn), Shawn Summe (Penn) and Allen Hodge (Goshen). 

Jeremie Riggleman, a shortstop at Bethel, is Sam’s son. 

Zartman has been head baseball coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. 

Blondell was a Bethel assistant and head coach at Holy Cross College and is the founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel organization. 

Takach was in the Arizona Diamondbacks chain, including a stint with the 2000 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, and in indy ball.

Former college baseball coach Summe is now athletic director at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. — less than 20 miles from MidAmerica Nazarene.

Thompson, Takach and Blondell were the top pitchers on the 1998 Bethel team which lost to Indiana Tech in the NAIA regional.

Thompson got to know Hutcheon as a player then coached for him for three seasons each as pitching coach at Bethel and Air Force Academy.

“Hutch is a great communicator and recruiter,” says Thompson. “He’s a good friend as well.

“I enjoyed my time with him.”

Thompson also maintained contact with Siler and received a visit from him in the summer of 2019.

“He was a numbers guy and taught me so much,” says Thompson of Siler, who died July 20, 2020 at 84. “I just learned so much from him.”

Thompson coached future professional pitchers Eric Stults, David Humen and Greg Kloosterman.

Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.

Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.

At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.

Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.

In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.

Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.

Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.

MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.

“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.

Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.

The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.

Ryan Thompson, a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is entering his 15th season as head baseball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2021. (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Communication key for Bullpen Tournaments VP Tucker

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Growing up playing sports in Zionsville, Ind., Michael Tucker knew what it was to be a teammate.

A center in basketball and catcher in baseball, Tulsa, Okla.-born Tucker played at Zionsville Community High School and graduated in 2008. Some of his closest friends to this day played on those squads.

“We had some great teams,” says Tucker, who played for head coaches Dave Ferrell and Shaun Busick in basketball and Darrell Osborne and Adam Metzler in baseball and counted Matt Miller as a mate on the court and the diamond. Miller went on to pitch at the University of Michigan and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Eric Charles went on to play baseball at Purdue University.

Ryan Price’s father Tom Price played baseball for Dr. Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) University and that’s one of the reasons Tucker ended up at the NCAA Division III school.

Tucker was a standout hitter while playing catcher and first base for the Ravens and the Hall of Famer they called “Bama” for his first two college seasons followed by two with David Pressley.

Brandon impressed Tucker with his memory.

“He can tell you the situation — who was on the mound and the count — (from most any game),” says Tucker. “He was really fun to learn from.”

Pressley was a first-time head coach at Anderson. Tucker credits him with lessons on and off the field.

“I learned how to be a man,” says Tucker. “(Pressley) is a huge man of faith.

“He taught a tremendous amount of life lessons.”

Tucker also gained knowledge from Brad Lantz, who was an AU senior receiver when he was a freshman and went on to be a high school head coach at Guerin Catholic and Lapel and is now coaching in the Indy Sharks travel organization.

“I learned so much about catching, counts and what to look for,” says Tucker. “I learned more from (Lantz) than anyone else.”

Tucker was named to D3baseball.com’s 2010s All-Decade Team.  During his career, Tucket hit .361 with 52 home runs, 50 doubles, 193 runs batted in and a .730 slugging percentage. He was a first-team All-America selection and the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference MVP in 2011.

Franklin (Ind.) College has long been a big HCAC rival for Anderson. Tucker recalls how Grizzlies head coach Lance Marshall sometimes used to bring in a fifth infielder when Tucker was at the plate. 

Not a Marshall fan at the time, Tucker has come to see the veteran coach as one of his favorites.

Tucker received a Management degree with a minor in Entrepreneurship from Anderson U. in 2012. 

His “internship” time was spent coaching (coaching with Cesar Barrientos and the Indiana Baseball Academy Storm while injured in 2009) or playing summer collegiate ball (Fort Mill, S.C., Stingers of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League in 2010 and Hannibal, Mo., Cavemen of the Prospect League in 2011 — a team owned at the time by former big leaguers Ryan Klesko and Woody Williams) and he saw a future related to the diamond. 

“I wanted to make baseball my job whether that was with an indoor facility, coaching, training or tournaments,” says Tucker. “I didn’t know what avenue.”

Tucker was a director at the Incrediplex on the northeast side of Indianapolis 2013-15 and coached for the Indiana Bulls travel organization 2012-16.

Since April 2015, Tucker has been part of a different team as vice president for Bullpen Tournaments, Prep Baseball Report Tournaments (with Rhett Goodmiller as director of tournaments) and Pro X Athlete Development (with former big league pitcher Joe Thatcher as co-founder and president) are tenants at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Bullpen, with Tucker as the director of day-to-day operations, is involved with Pro X and works with PBR Indiana and consults with PBR national, which operates LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga., and Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo.

Ground was recently broken for Championship Park in Kokomo, Ind., and that complex will also be used by Bullpen and PBR.

The 2021 summer will mark Tucker’s seventh with Bullpen Tournaments. 

Hired by BT president Blake Hibler, whom he knew from working Prep Baseball Report showcases, Tucker started at Bullpen in time to experience Grand Park’s first full summer.

“I did everything,” says Tucker. “I tried to be a sponge. Being in baseball your whole life is completely different from the tournament industry.

“There’s learning the business side and scheduling.”

While at the Incrediplex near Lawrence, Tucker had done scheduling on a smaller scale and had become comfortable with software.

Tucker appreciates that Hibler lets him seek out processes.

“If I can find a better mousetrap, he lets me run with it,” says Tucker.

Bullpen is a very large operation.

“We’re a different beast in a lot of ways,” says Tucker, who notes that on any given weekend the company may have as many as 45 fields under its control, including those on and off the Grand Park campus.

Tucker says the key is getting the word out to teams, families and recruiters.

“You have to be able to communicate,” says Tucker. “Half of scheduling is the communicating of the schedule.”

With Hibler having a large part in brainstorming and development, Bullpen first used the Tourney Machine app and now works with Playbook 365 while also helping develop PitchAware and ScoreHQ. 

Bullpen hires scorekeepers for every high school tournament game (15U to 18U) at Grand Park. In 2020, there was also video on six fields.

“It’s huge to have accurate data,” says Tucker. “We can overlay video with stats.

“(A college) coach can recruit from his office.”

But even though Bullpen is dealing with many moving parts, there are only a half dozen full-time employees.

“Guys are tasked to learn a lot of different things,” says Tucker. “But we never feel like this is something I can’t do. Our mentality is we’re going bust our butts and how do we solve this problem?

“Our guys do a tremendous job of being flexible.”

An example of teamwork and flexibility is the creation of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which came about when so many other leagues were canceling the 2020 summer season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team that made it happen include Hibler, Tucker, Thatcher, Phil Wade, Luke Dietz, Mark Walther, Matt Bowles, Logan Weins, Cam Eveland and Kevin Ricks. Thatcher and Walther are at Pro X. Weins splits his time between Bullpen Tournaments and PBR Tournaments.

With many players reaching out, Bullpen saw the need and went to work to put together what became a 12-team league with most games played at Grand Park with a few at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

The league was constructed with safety, NCAA and recruiting regulations in mind. Players were placed, umpires were lined up and jerseys were distributed in a very short time frame.

“We had about seven days to do it,” says Tucker. “We’re excited for it to come back (in 2021).”

As a D-III alum, Tucker was especially pleased that the CSL allowed top-flight players like Joe Moran (who pitched for Anderson and has transferred to Taylor University) was able to compete against D-I talent.

While the pandemic slowed the start of the 2020 Bullpen season, Tucker estimates that there were upwards of 80 percent in games played as compared to a normal year.

The fall included more contests than ever.

“Teams couldn’t play in the spring and that baseball hunger was still there,” says Tucker. “They wanted to play a little longer.

“We had a great fall.”

Weather plays a part, but the first games each year at Grand Park with all its turf fields are collegiate in February. 

“If we get a warm-weather day our phone blows up,” says Tucker. 

Activity starts to ramp up in March with the first 8U to 14U contests the last weekend of that month.

Of course, the pandemic will have a say in what happens in 2021.

“With all the uncertainty it’s tough,” says Tucker. “It’s going to be an interesting spring.”

A perk of Tucker’s position and location is the relationships he gets to build with high school coaches. 

He sees the unique dynamic between between Noblesville’s Justin Keever, Westfield’s Ryan Bunnell, Zionsville’s Jered Moore and Fishers’ Matt Cherry of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

“They’re buddies,” says Tucker. “They go out to eat after the game.”

Michael and wife Dani Tucker live in Noblesville, Ind., with son Cole (5) and Cali (3).

The Tucker family (from left): Cali, Dani, Michael and Cole. Michael Tucker is vice president of Bullpen Tournaments is a tenant at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Butler volunteer Montgomery places premium on relationship building

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bailey Montgomery was well on his way to an engineering degree when he decided that the call to stay in baseball was just too strong.

Montgomery, a 2015 Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School graduate, was heading into his last season as a player at Western Illinois University in the spring of 2019 when he decided to change his major to General Studies with a Mathematics minor, which allowed him to graduate and pursue a coaching path.

“It’s what I was passionate about,” says Montgomery. “I couldn’t leave the field.”

At 24, Montgomery has been a volunteer coach at Butler University in Indianapolis since August 2020 after serving as hitting coach for the summer collegiate Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2019 and hitting/outfield coach and recruiting director at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 2019-20.

Montgomery places an emphasis on developing relationships with players.

It’s really something I’ve been trying to hang my hat on,” says Montgomery. “I know how important it is at my age that I build trust with the guys. I want the guys to know I truly care about their development and their individual plan.

“Understanding that individual person is so huge.”

The Butler staff is headed by veteran Dave Schrage with full-time assistants Matt Kennedy (hitting coach and recruiting coordinator) and Ben Norton (pitching coach).

Montgomery enjoys listening to Schrage’s stories and soaking up his diamond wisdom.

“It’s something different everyday,” says Montgomery. “Coach Schrage and Coach Kennedy have given me so much freedom. They’ve allowed me to grow as a young coach.”

Montgomery has some keys as a hitting coaching.

“It’s about making everything repeatable and letting them know what we expect from each guy to make our offense as complete as we can make it,” says Montgomery. “We keep it simple and get them to be confident in what they need to do.”

Kennedy and Montgomery have Butler hitters keeping journals that allow the coaches to follow the process and learning methods for each player.

“There’s not one way to skin a cat,” says Montgomery. “It’s understanding where they’re at.

“Being able to manage people is ultimately going to define how successful they are.”

Butler wrapped up two months of fall practice — which included individualized work and intrasquad scrimmages — in October. 

“We had a tremendous fall,” says Montgomery. “We maximized the time with our guys.”

All students left campus after Thanksgiving and are not expected back until late January.

To keep the Bulldogs on track, there have been Zoom calls.

The 2021 season is due to begin Feb. 19. The Big East Conference will go to four-game weekend series. As of now, Butler will be allowed to keep the non-conference games now on the its schedule.

During the Christmas break, Montgomery has stayed in Indianapolis and conducted lessons for players middle school age and younger (the NCAA is not currently allowing camps or lessons with high schoolers).

“I’m getting as many hours in the (batting cage) as I can,” says Montgomery.

Born in Evansville, Ind., Montgomery grew up in Vincennes. He played on Cal Ripken League teams coached by father Ross Montgomery until age 12. When Bailey played travel ball for the Indiana Redbirds at 13U and 14U, Jay Wolfe was the head coach and Ross Montgomery helped.

Montgomery’s 15U, 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Nitro, coached by Eric Dill and Kris Dill. 

At 18U, Montgomery got a taste of college baseball atmosphere with the Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks.

At Lincoln, Montgomery for a coaching staff led by Brandon Pfoff with Tim Hutchison, Chris Clements and Andy Pinkstaff as assistants.

“We were competitive on a daily basis,” says Montgomery of the Vincennes Lincoln Alices. “It got me ready for the competitive environment at Wabash Valley.

“Coach Hutchison (who is now head coach at Vincennes Lincoln) was and is a great mentor for me as well. We have daily conversations. We’re always throwing ideas off each other. He has a growth mindset.”

Montgomery hit .352 (31-of-88) at WVC for Warriors head coach Rob Fournier in 2016 and 2017 (a season that finished with a third-place finish at the National Junior College World Series) before coming back to coach.

“Coach Fournier is one of the best recruiting guys I’ve ever seen,” says Montgomery. “He’s helped me with the evaluation piece, conversations with recruits and things to look for.

“I’ve learned the value of relationships (with contacts and recruits). I’m thankful for those conversations.”

Through his experiences, Montgomery counts himself as a big advocate for junior college baseball.

“It’s continuing to grow,” says Montgomery. “It’s an awesome environment if you’re a guy looking to grow and develop.”

Montgomery, a righty-swinging first baseman, played played two seasons at Western Illinois (2018 and 2019), appearing in 88 games (77 starts) and hitting .296 with two home runs, 43 runs batted in and a .991 fielding percentage with 317 putouts and just three errors.

Ryan Brownlee (now assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association) was the Leathernecks head coach.

“Coach Brownlee is just passionate about what he does,” says Montgomery. “Handling relationships is what he does really well. He gets his players to buy in.”

While he was still playing, Montgomery was able to serve something of a behind-the-scenes look at being a coach from Brownlee with access to scouting reports and some recruiting communciation.

During his collegiate playing career, Montgomery spent summers with the Hannibal (Mo.) Cavemen (2016), Irish Hills (Mich.) Leprechauns (2017) and Quincy (Ill.) Gems (2018). He was going to return to the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators as manager in 2020, but the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ross and Robin Montgomery have three children — Brittany, Bailey and Jade. Jade Montgomery is a softball pitcher/first baseman at Eastern Illinois University.

Bailey Montgomery is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Butler University Photo)
Bailey Montgomery, a 2015 Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School, is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. He also played and coached at Wabash Valley College and played and graduated from Western Illinois University. He was a hitting coach for the 2019 summer collegiate Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Butler University Photo)

Alum McTagertt keeps growing the game at Lafayette Jeff

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott McTagertt paid his dues before becoming head baseball coach at his alma mater.

A 1986 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, McTagertt was still a Purdue University student when he became a Jeff assistant for the 1988 season.

He has been bringing baseball knowledge to Bronchos ever since. 

McTagertt played for head coach Mark Strader and served on the staffs of Tony Primavera, Ed Gilliland and Kevin Maxwell before taking the reins of the Lafayette Jeff program for the 2008 season.

“(Strader) is probably the best athlete that ever came through Lafayette Jeff,” says McTagertt. “He was very demanding. We respected the guy because you knew what he knew in baseball.

“We put so much intensity into practice. (Strader) got (to play for and) coach with (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul) “Spider” Fields. (Strader) brought some of that fire to us.”

A shortstop and pitcher at Jeff, McTagertt was on the Purdue team for one season behind future big leaguer Archi Cianfrocco while working toward what would be an Education degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI).

As a young coach, McTagertt marveled at Primavera’s game management skills.

“I don’t know if there was anybody better than him,” says McTagertt. “He knew everything in the game was going to happen before it happened.

“He was fun to learn from.”

Gilliland had played for and coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber at LaPorte High School.

“(Gilliland) was a disciplinarian,” says McTagertt. “This is the way we’re going to do it. He had set routines. The kids worked hard for him. 

“He liked to ride his top two pitchers a lot. It was the LaPorte Way.”

In a decade with Maxwell, McTagertt witnessed a strong organizer.

“(Maxwell) ran very structured practices,” says McTagertt. “Everything was written out. The kids had to know the practice plan.”

Along the way, McTagertt has continued to have a growth mindset. He has learned much about the game from networking, attending clinics and — in this pandemic year of 2020 — Zoom meetings and other online resources.

“We’re probably the most sharing group of coaches you’re going to find in any sport,” says McTagertt. “Tthere are so many ways to teach in baseball.

“You can always steal an idea or two.”

McTagertt was born in Greenwood, Ind., and came to Lafayette as a fourth grader. That first day in town he attended the Colt World Series at Loeb Stadium.

“It was a big place for my family,” says McTagertt, who started working at Loeb in 1988 and did so until the facility dedicated in 1940 was torn down to make way for the New Loeb Stadium.

Teaching fifth grade STEM at nearby Sunnyside Intermediate, McTagertt drops by regularly to see the progress of the ballpark adjacent to the Columbian Park Zoo that mimics Kokomo Municipal Stadium (home to Kokomo High School, Indiana University Kokomo and summer collegiate Kokomo Jackrabbits) and is oriented the other way from the old Loeb (left field faces the pool and right field is closet to the zoo).

“I didn’t know if I’d ever see this place,” says McTagertt. “It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

With construction of the new Loeb (also home to the summer collegiate Lafayette Aviators), Jeff was going to spend much of 2020 playing road games. But the COVID-19 pandemic took away the season. The Bronchos were just days away from tryouts when what became lockdown began. Individual workouts were distributed via computer. 

In fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practice, the focus was on individual skills and position development.

“We put a premium on teaching since we lost a season,” says McTagertt, who sent the Bronchos from the World Series to the weight room until Dec. 22 and expects to resume activities Jan. 4.

McTagertt’s 2021 coaching staff features John Ripke, Alex Igo and Sean McDonald as varsity assistants. Kevin Igo is the JV Red head coach and is helped by Brian McDonald and Matthew Koeppen. Tim Whitaker is the JV Black (or C-team) head coach and is aided by Daniel Nelson.

The Bronchos tend to have around 40 players in the program. On days when all three squads are in action, there might be 13 to 15 with the varsity, 13 with JV Red and the rest with JV Black.

Jeff (enrollment around 2,080) is in the Northern Central Conference (with Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon, Muncie Central and Richmond).

The Bronchos are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport and McCutcheon. Jeff won the last of its 17 sectional titles in 2013. The program has also claimed 12 regionals, four semistates, two state championships (1969 and 1973) and one state runner-up (1971).

Two recent Jeff players — brother Justin Walker Jr. (Purdue) and Jacob Walker (Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) — have moved on to college diamonds. Current Bronchos Caleb Koeppen and Brady Preston have received college offers.

For years, Jeff and Lafayette Central Catholic developed young players through the Lafayette Lightning.

About eight years ago — wanting to get more Jeff-bound youngsters involved in competitive play — Junior Broncho Baseball was established. The group fielded 10U, 11U and 12U teams that first year and now has teams from 8U to 15U.

That first 12U team were freshmen in the spring of 2020.

The Junior Bronchos play often at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and Indianapolis Sports Park.

Elite players are encouraged to play for teams like the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Nitro.

“We take rest of the kids and run them through our practices and camps,” says McTagertt. “We get the best of both worlds.”

Utilizing diamonds at Armstrong Park and McCaw Park, Lafayette Youth Baseball is still going strong.

“There’s a wonderful working relationship city, parks department and baseball programs in Lafayette,” says McTagertt.

Scott and Fawn McTagertt (a McCutcheon High School teacher) have three children. Rileigh McTagertt is a junior Education major at Purdue who coaches tennis at Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette. She was in cheerleading, basketball and tennis at Jeff.  

Ashlynn McTagertt played golf, basketball and softball for the Bronchos and is now a freshmen softball player at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College. 

Drew McTagertt is a Tecumseh eighth grader who plays tennis, basketball and baseball.

Scott McTagertt is the head baseball coach at Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School — a position he’s held since the 2008 season. The 1986 Jeff graduated joined the Bronchos coaching staff in 1988.

Zangrilli’s baseball path takes him back to Carmel Greyhounds

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With lasting influences from two coaches, John Zangrilli decided that education and coaching were for him when he was still a teenager.

It was while learning and playing for Jeff Massey (baseball) and Ken Randle (basketball) that Zangrilli saw his career path. Massey was the head baseball coach for Zangrilli’s last three years at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, following Steve Goeglein. Randle was a freshmen/assistant coach, teacher and mentor. 

Since graduating from Lawrence Central in 1994, Zangrilli has enjoyed many baseball experiences and encounters with successful diamond minds.

Zangrilli — aka Z or Coach Z since his father (Papa Z) and son (Little Z) are also named John — has coached in three central Indiana high school programs (two assistant stints at Carmel and head coaching tenures at Brebeuf Jesuit and Zionsville). 

As a head coach, Coach Z-led teams went 247-81 with six sectional championships (2004, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010 at Brebeuf and 2012 at Zionsville), three regional crowns (2005 and 2009 at Brebeuf and 2012 at Zionsville), one Final Four appearance (2012 at Zionsville), two Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles (2011 and 2012 at Zionsville) and one Marion County crown (2010 at Brebeuf in a an extra-inning game against Lawrence Central at Victory Field that Zangrilli calls the best game he’s ever seen).

Six of Zangrill’s players were chosen for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and he was the South head coach for the 2009 games in Evansville. 

He has coached 28 players who went on to college careers and 18 academic all-state honorees

Among Zangrilli’s coach of the year honors include IHSBCA all-district (2009, 2012), all-North (2011) and Marion County (2005, 2009, 2010).

There has been involvement with three travel organizations (Zionsville Baseball Club, Carmel Pups and Indiana Bulls) for Coach Z. He helped start the ZBC and re-tooled the Carmel Pups. He coached with the Pups while his son, John, moved from 8U to 12U. Both will be with the Indiana Bulls 13U Silver team — dad as head coach and son as a player — in 2021.

As a collegiate pitcher, Zangrilli enjoyed three NCAA Division I seasons (1995 for Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan at Indiana University and 1996 and 1997 for Bulldogs head coach Steve Farley at Butler University). 

“Coach Farley and Coach Morgan couldn’t be any more different in terms of their personalities

Intense,” says Zangrilli, describing Morgan as intense and Farley possessing an even-keel temperament. “Coach Morgan was extremely detail-oriented. Every moment of every day was organized. It’s the first time I was introduced to something like that. It was about understanding your role on the team. As a coach, I drew on that a little bit.

“I really enjoyed the way Coach Farley created a calm atmosphere for his athletes to relax and take what they had been taught and then go out and play the game.”

Zangrilli earned an Elementary Education degree with an endorsement in Physical Education and Health from Butler in 1998. He has worked in Carmel schools for 22 years and is now a Wellness Education teacher at Woodbrook Elementary School.

His first high school coaching gig was a three-year stint on the coaching staff of Carmel Greyhounds head coach Tom Linkmeyer in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Carmel lost 1-0 in 11 innings to eventual state runner-up Evansville Harrison in the 2000 State semifinals.

Born in central Pennsylvania, Zangrilli roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Penn State University. He came to Indiana early in his elementary school years.

At 14, Zangrilli worked for Jeff Mercer Sr., at Mercer’s Sports Center on the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

One of the first players to log more than one summer with the Indiana Bulls, Z was with the elite organization 1992-94. Mike Stein was head coach that first year. The next two years, Dennis Kas was head coach and was helped by Kevin Stephenson, Brent Mewhinney and Linkmeyer, who was also the Wellness Education teacher at Woodbrook prior to Zangrilli.

“They were imparting all this baseball knowledge on us,” says Zangrilli. “It was eye-opening. It was the intersection of talent and instruction and we took off. We had a great deal of success.

“Dennie Kas was the first guy I played for who instilled an appreciation for preparation,” says Zangrilli. “He had a real knack for reading the pulse of his team.

“He could walk in the dugout and know if they needed to be calm or pick up the energy.”

Zangrilli was head coach at Brebeuf for seven campaigns (2004-10) and Zionsville for three (2011-13). 

“Between my years at Brebeuf and Zionsville it was an embarrassment of riches,” says Coach Z.

Among his assistants at Brebeuf were Andy McClain (former player and assistant under IHSBCA of Famer Bill Tutterow at Martinsville and head coach at LaVille and Arlington who went on to be head coach at Brebeuf, Norwell and Lawrence Central) and Tim Phares (son of IHSBCA Hall of Famer George Phares). 

Standout Braves players included catcher Radley Haddad (Western Carolina University, Butler University, player and coach in New York Yankees system), outfielder Jack Dillon (Butler University), Tres Eberhardt (Xavier University), outfielder Nathan Koontz (Ball State University), catcher Mitch Overley (Ball State University, Wabash College), infielder/outfielder Ty Adams (University of Notre Dame), outfielder Kevin Simms (University of Dayton, Wright State University), outfielder Stevie Eberhardt-Gipson (Northern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher/catcher John Krasich (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology).

Pollard, Tibbs, Jered Moore, Quinn Moore, Jeremy Honaker and Josh Medveseck were among those on Coach Z’s staff at Zionsville. 

Right-hander Parker Dunshee (Wake Forest University, Oakland Athletics organization), infielder/outfielder Max Kuhn (University of Kentucky, Oakland Athletics organization), infielder Troy Kuhn (Ohio State University), third baseman Ben Kocher (Belmont University), outfielder Drew Small (Butler University), left-hander Alex Westrick (Xavier University) and outfielder Nick Barrientos (Wabash Valley College, Northwood University) are part of a long line of Eagles players who went on to college and/or professional baseball.

John and wife Jackie have two children. After the 2013 season, Z turned his focus to teaching as well as coaching Little Z and daughter Olivia (a travel volleyball player).

When former Butler teammate Matt Buczkowski (son of IHBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski) became head coach at he — and all the returning Carmel talent — lured Zangrilli back into high school coaching. 

Coach Z remembers Buczkowski’s request going something like this: “I’ve got a Ferrari of pitching staff. I need to have somebody help me drive it.”

Buczkowski inherited a stable of arms developed by former Carmel pitching coach Jay Lehr.

The 2017 senior class featured left-handers Tommy Sommer (Indiana University), Max Habegger (Lipscomb University), Shawn Roop (Manhattan College) and right-handers Cameron Pferrer (University of Missouri) and Aaron Ernst (University of Dayton, Wright State University) plus outfielders Parker Massman (Miami University of Ohio) and infielder Rhett Wintner (Ball State University). There was also junior infielder Jack Van Remortel (University of Michigan).

“I didn’t plan on coming back to high school coaching,” says Zangrilli. “But I was intrigued. I had a pretty good history with Butch. 

“My wife gave me the thumbs-up.”

The ’17 Greyhounds went 23-3 and won the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference.

The spring of 2021 will be Coach Z’s fifth since returning to the Carmel dugout.

Zangrilli, Buczkowski and former Westfield and Carmel field boss and current hitting coach Eric Lentz represent more than 500 head coaching victories on a Hounds staff. Pitching coach Fred Moses came to Carmel from Lawrence Central with Buczkowski.

“My role is whatever they need as any given day,” says Zangrilli, who has been a pitching coach, first base coach and a camp coordinator. The past five years, he helped oversee the Carmel Pups.

COVID-19 shut down the 2020 high school season days before tryouts (Carmel went 21-8 and finished second in the MIC in 2019) and prevented the 12U Pups from making a trip to play in Cooperstown, N.Y. 

“It’s extremely unfortunate,” says Zangrilli. “It proves it can be taken away from you at any point.”

Fortunately, many Carmel players did get to play last summer. Coach Z helped Kevin Christman coach during the last few weeks of the inaugural College Summer League at Grand Park.

Following health precautions, Zangrilli says the Hounds were able to accomplish as much as they did during last year’s Limited Contact Period fall workouts.

Says Coach Z, “All systems are go.”

John Zangrilli is a teacher and baseball coach in Carmel (Ind.) Clay Schools. (Carmel Clay Schools Photo)
Carmel (Ind.) High School assistant baseball coach John Zangrilli hits fungos to the Greyhounds.
John Zangrilli is a Wellness teacher and baseball coach in Carmel (Ind.) Clay Schools. The 2021 season will be the firth in his second stint with the Greyhounds. The former Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, Indiana University and Butler University pitcher has also served as head coach at Brebeuf Jesuit High School in Indianapolis and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School and has coached with the Carmel Pups and Indiana Bulls.

High school assistants make impact around Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coaches of high school baseball programs across Indiana have enjoyed help from some longtime assistants.

Here are some of their stories:

Rhett Welliever (Crawfordsville)

Going into his 36th season in 2021, Rhett Welliever has been the pitching coach at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School for his whole run.

“I’m a humongous believer in owning that inside part of the plate with the fastball,” says Welliever. “It seems to have worked.

“If you can throw the inside fastball, every other pitch is available to you.”

Welliever wants his hurlers to employ solid mechanics. But he is also unique in today’s deviating from today’s prevelant approach.

“My pitchers are always working on stuff, stuff, stuff,” says Welliever, who knows his players enjoy throwing hard. “Most people work on location, location, location.”

Welliever has his catchers set up on the inside black for bullpens about 60-70 percent of the time. Many of his hurlers go hard in and soft away though some have done the opposite.

“It’s OK if once in awhile you hit a batter,” says Welliever. “Don’t get upset.”

Breaking balls are also thrown hard.

“We’re trying to create as much spin on that ball so it breaks as late as possible and the hitter has the least amount of time to react to it,” says Welliever. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”

Welliever has his pitchers build arm strength with long toss and with burnouts aka pulldowns.

The 2008 Crawfordsville pitching staff racked up 397 (No. 3 in the IHSBCA Record Book; No. 1 Lafayette Jeff fanned 450 in 43 games in 1971).

Steven Rice fanned 198 batters in 2009 and finished his Athenians career (2007-10) with 521 K’s.

Welliever worked alongside brother-in-law and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge through 2020. 

“One of John’s strengths teaching the fundamentals of fielding,” says Welliever. “(Strong defense) helps pitchers.

“It gives them confidence to attack the hitters and throw strikes.”

Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate, is now Athenians head coach. Motz played at the University of Evansville, served as a graduate assistant at Purdue University and was head coach at North Putnam High School before returning to his alma mater, where he is also the strength & conditioning coach.

The Athenians won Class 3A state championships in 2008 (32-4) and 2011 (29-6).

What keeps Welliever coming back?

“It’s working with the kids and getting them to the point where they’re confident about themselves,” says Welliever. “It’s seeing them succeed in baseball and in life.”

He has witnessed many former players giving back to the community as coaches at the youth and high school levels.

“It is the most satisfying thing,” says Welliever, who grew up around New Market, Ind., and is a 1980 graduate of Southmont High School in Crawfordsville, where he played baseball for Mounties head coach George Davis and counted Froedge and the Taylor twins — Dave and Dan — as teammates. Dave Taylor went on to help found the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

“We played a lot of baseball together,” says Welliever. “It was a really special group of guys.”

Dan Welliever, Rhett’s father, taught junior high and was a wrestling head coach and an assistant in baseball, football and softball at Crawfordsville.

Jamie Welliever, Rhett’s brother, is retired from teaching and has spent two tenures each as head baseball and head wrestling coach at Southmont.

Landon McBride (New Palestine)

A middle school coach for five years (seventh and eighth grade teams often play up to 20 games while feeding the high school program), Landon McBride joined the New Palestine High School staff for the 2007 season. He is the Dragons infield coach and helps with hitters on a staff led since 2012 by Shawn Lyons

“The thing that jumps out at me the most about Coach Lyons is his absolute passion for his kids,” says McBride. “If you’re not in the inner circle you may not see that. But he does a great job of having his finger no the pulse of where our team is at and where each individual is at.”

McBride sees Lyons as steady.

“He doesn’t get too high; He doesn’t get too low,” says McBride. “He tries to keep our players on that even-keel, knowing there’s going to be ups and downs everyday.”

On game days, McBride serves as Lyons’ right-hand man, bouncing lineups off one another and trading ideas about strategy while also coaching first base.

McBride emphasizes fundamentals when it comes to his infielders fielding ground balls.

“We’re getting reps in every day — the way we think is the right way,” says McBride. “With hitting, we believe in going the other way. We’re utilizing our speed, bunt and steal bases when we can.”

McBride regularly throws batting practice.

“I’m 59 but I’m still chucking it in there,” says McBride. “I try to give them a little sense of velocity (by moving the L screen closer to the plate.”

When the varsity field is not available, New Pal baseball has been able to use the turf football field for long toss, tracking fly balls and taking grounders.

A 1980 graduate of Marshall High School in Indianapolis where he played three seasons for Bob Tremain and one for Brad Goffinet, McBride was a four-year player for Lynn Morrell at Marian University in Indianapolis — at the time an independent NAIA program.

McBride says he appreciates the discipline, structure and attention to detail that Tremain and Goffinet brought to Redskins baseball. 

“(Coach Morrell) liked getting the ball into play and swinging away,” says McBride. “It was the pure joy of being around the game.”

Landon, a partner in Indiana Property Services which gives him the schedule freedom to coach baseball, and wife Shari McBride have three children — Ryan (30), Angela (28) and Wes (24). The boys played baseball and Angela was also an athlete at New Palestine.

Mike Zeilinga (New Palestine)

A 1976 New Palestine graduate, Mike Zeilinga coaches Dragons outfielders and leads the junior varsity. 

Zeilinga began coaching boys basketball at New Pal in 1996 and led the freshmen for two seasons and the JV for four. He joined Al Cooper’s baseball staff in 2003. Cooper was a Dragons senior when Zeilinga was a freshman.

New Palestine earned a Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2003 and state title in 2004.

“The kids keep me young,” says Zeilinga. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching.”

Most Dragons practices begin with stretching and throwing followed by individual defensive position work and team drills (cuts, double cuts and knowing situations).

“Coach McBride is excellent about working with our infielders,” says Zeilinga. “He makes sure they are moving with every pitch.

“Coach Lyons trusts the coaches that he has. He and Coach McBride have coached together that they can read each other’s mind. They have that kind of chemistry.”

During the fall IHSAA Limited Contract Period (twice a week for two hours), 73 players were at workouts while participation was around 65 for recent winter sessions.

“All coaches at New Pal work very well with sharing athletes,” says Zeilinga. “That’s straight from the mentality of Coach (Al) Cooper (athletic director and former head baseball coach).

Zeilinga often works with New Pal outfielders and JV players.

Since varsity and JV teams tend to play on the same night, Zeilinga rarely sees the varsity once the regular season starts.

After each JV game, Zeilinga sends an overview of what his players did well or areas where they need improvement and share that with head coach Shawn Lyons and varsity assistant Landon McBride.

Like McBride, Zeilinga has noticed the head coach’s temperament.

“Coach Lyons doesn’t get real high or real low after a big win or a hard loss,” says Zeilinga. “He’s just a real gentleman of the game.”

Mike, who worked at Eli Lily & Company 35 years before retiring, and wife Susan Zeilinga have two children — Stephanie (a teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis) and Michael (who was the starting center fielder on New Palestine’s 2004 state championship team).

Kevin Hall (New Albany)

Kevin Hall is a 1986 New Albany High School graduate who was a scrappy middle infielder and lead-off hitter for John Buerger, but his association with Bulldogs baseball goes back to before he started school.

Hall, who credits his work ethic for being the youngest of 11, was a batboy for teams featuring older brother David and coached by Stan Sajko in the early 1970’s. Hall still has the tiny pinstriped uniform from those days.

“(Coach Berger) had an attention to detail,” says Hall. “John was very big on pitching and defense. He believed in the bunting game.”

With a few years off here and there, Hall has been on the New Albany baseball coaching staff since 1990. He has been Bulldogs head coach and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chris McIntyre’s top assistant for more than two decades.

“We both have the same philosophy on winning and we’re teaching these kids how to be young men,” says Hall, who leads infielders while also helping with outfielders, hitters and catchers. “When kids get out of school they’re probably not going to be their own boss. They need to learn to take direction.

“We understand that this is the game of failure. If you give us effort, we’ll never get on you about that.”

Hall coaches first base with McIntyre in the third base box.

“Coach McIntyre has a mind like nobody I’ve ever met,” says Hall. “He can process things. He’s analytical. He’s a math teacher. He loves the numbers.”

One day, Hall brought a stop watch to time runners without McIntyre knowing it and — counting in his head — the head coach was only off the actual number by about 1/10th of a second.

“Our program wouldn’t be near where it would be without Chris McIntyre.”

Hall calls baseball “the fairest game ever.”

“Each team gets the same number of outs, same number of opportunities and deals with the same conditions,” says Hall. “There’s no clock. 

“You just have to go play.”

Hall throws a good deal of batting practice to the Bulldogs.

“Our kids get a lot of live arms,” says Hall. “I just use aspirin and ice and go back and do it again the next day.”

When McIntyre was approaching New Albany’s all-time win mark, Hall helped organize a special night for him.

After the celebration, Mac pulled Hall aside and said, “Don’t ever do that again” and then thanked him the next day.

“He’s very humble,” says Hall of McIntyre. “He wants the kids to have that limelight and not him.”

With the loss of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, New Albany had time to upgrade its baseball field while also putting in a new softball diamond next door. 

Kevin, a plant operator at Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany, and wife Melia Hall have a daughter together — eighth grader Anderson (named for Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson). Kevin’s two older daughters are Samantha and Stephanie. Melia’s son is Aidan.

Steve Ford (Lewis Cass)

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Marschand has had Steve Ford on his staff for three-quarters of his tenure leading Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind.

The 2021 season will mark Ford’s 31st with the Kings. He has always led the infield defense and helped with hitting instruction at Cass, which finished as Class 2A state runners-up in 2009 (20-9).

“It’s pretty collaborative in our program,” says Ford, who coaches first base and sits next to Marschand when the coaches are in the dugout. “We get a sense of the style of play we’re going to use and we coach each of the areas based on what we’re trying to do for that season.

“We we like to put pressure on the defense (on offense). You can do that a lot of different ways. If we have plodders (on the base paths), we can bunt them over. If we have rabbits, we can have more stolen bases, double steals and taking of extra bases.”

Kings coaches like players to play to their strengths and learn to do things like hit behind the runner and put the ball on the ground up the middle.

“We want them to be well-versed in the approach they are going to be taking at the plate based on the situation,” says Ford. “We would really like our players to learn the strategies and the options.

“In practice, we put runners in position and they decide how they are going to score the run.

“Once they have a broader knowledge of how to play, they are going to enjoy it more and be more successful.”

A big part of the Cass offensive blueprint is to get accumulate freebies with dirt-ball reads etc.

“Our approach at the plate has to be to hit hittable strikes,” says Ford. “Early in the count we’re not going to hit his pitch. We’re going to hit our pitch.”

A goal in batting practice is for each player to figure out which pitch he hits best.

BP goal – each player to learn to figure out which pitch he hits best

“Hitting a pitcher’s pitch is giving him a freebie,” says Ford. “Hitting our pitch is somewhat of a freebie for us.”

As part of its SAFE-T offensive plan, Cass wants to score the game’s first run.

Going for the long ball is not a priority, especially at home games where it’s 330 feet down the foul lines and 408 to center field.

“There’s a lot of outfield grass and we’re going to try to pepper it rather than try to hit it out of the park,” says Ford.

Kings defenders focus a lot of on momentum changers.

“One of he biggest on defense is the double play,” says Ford. “We work a lot on turns, feeds and throws to first base while trying to help our pitcher.

“At the high school level, pitching can be a huge variable. Defensive positioning os based on the speed of our pitcher. 

“I can’t tell (infielders) every pitch where to align so they have to be cognizant of signals between the pitchers and catcher and know what pitch is coming.”

The Kings also look to prevent opponents from taking the extra base by being in the proper position for cut-offs and double-cuts.

“We’re making sure to be in a good back-up position in case the throw isn’t perfect,” says Ford. “There are a lot of nuances in defense like where the first baseman takes the throw or where the third baseman goes based on the count. At the high school level, the drag bunt is a big strategy.”

Taking nothing for granted, Ford wants his infielders to back up throws from the catcher to the pitcher.

Ford, a 1970 Kokomo Haworth graduate played for for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Keith Slaughter. The 1970 Haworth Huskies were state finalists.

Bill Bright was middle infielder Ford’s coach at Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis).

Steve and wife Julia Ford have been married since 1974 and have two daughters — Amanda (a local farm wife with a son and two daughters) and Melanie (who played four years of basketball at the University of Charleston and is now associate athletic director, senior women’s administrator and NCAA compliance officer at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.). Amanda was a manager and Melanie a player for their father as a basketball coach.

Steve Ford was the girls basketball coach at Cass for 18 seasons, concluding in 2007-08.

Jim Kominkiewicz (Penn)

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos has been head coach at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., for four Class 4A state titles (1994, 1998, 2001 and 2015) and a state runner-up finish (2017). 

Jim Kominiewicz has been there as an assistant for all of them. The 2021 season will be Komo’s 31st on the Kingsmen coaching staff. He has been in education for 38 years — eight in South Bend and 30 in the Penn system.

The current staff has Dikos leading the catcher, Kominkiewicz the infielders, Tom Stanton the pitchers and John Westra the outfielders.

“Greg is one of the best catching coaches in the state,” says Kominkiewicz, noting that Penn has produced its share of college backstops. “Catching is one of the hardest things to do. You’re involved in every play.

“When have pitchers like Skylar Szynski or Ryan Lynch, you better make sure your catcher can catch the ball.”

Kominkiewicz applauds Dikos for his willingness to keep learning and incorporating them into the Kingsmen program.

“Every year we try to do something better,” says Kominkiewicz. “We never stay the same. We try to change things up and keep the kids excited about it. 

“Greg is always going to clinics. He’s the best.”

Kominkiewicz has noticed that many clinic speakers reinforce concepts already being taught by Penn coaches.

“It shows we’re doing things right,” says Kominkiewicz. 

As an infield coach, Komo stresses getting the palm to the baseball and fielding through it. Time is spent on back-handing and picking up short hops.

Kominkiewicz graduated from South Bend John Adams High School in 1972, where he played baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski.

Komo’s first baseball coaching post was at South Bend Washington High School on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski that also included pitching coach Larry Jackowiak.

“Rick was very intense,” says Kominkiewicz. “He’s a book. We spent a lot of time together. We’d come in on Saturday morning and leave at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. 

“I learned a lot of baseball from those guys. Both of them were great coaches.”

A popular drill during the indoor portion of the preseason was a game called “27 Outs.”

As fielders got closer to making it to the finish, balls off fungo bats got harder.

“That’s why (Tomaszewski’s) team were good,” says Kominkiewicz. “They competed every practice.

“We do the same things at Penn. We compete. We test for sit-ups, push-ups and longest throws. We rate their at-bats (4 points for a line drive, 3 for a hard ground ball etc.). Pitchers try to throw the most strikes — things like that.”

Ground balls and double plays are often timed.

Splitting the team into three groups, the Kingsmen go nine outs per round. Losers do extra running or clean up the field.

“A lot of times our practices are harder than the games,” says Kominkiewicz. “But it’s got to be good practice — not just practice. We want to do it right.

“Our theory is we want to good game of catch, put the ball in play (on offense) and pitchers have to throw strikes. That’s what we stress.”

After Washington, Kominkiewicz went to Adams to coach football, wrestling, baseball and and weightlifting then went back to Washington to coach baseball.

Then came the move to Penn, where he also coached football for two years. He has taught and coaches football and wrestling and served as athletic director at Grissom Middle School.

Jim and wife Beth Kominkiewicz have four children — Ryan (38), Brandon (32), Jill (29) and Matt (21) — and seven grandchildren ages six months to 9 years. 

Ryan, an engineer with Caterpillar, played baseball at Penn. 

Brandon played football at Penn and the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and coaches football at Fort Wayne North Side High School.

Jill is a dental assistant.

Matt played baseball and football at Penn and is on the football team at Saint Francis.

Kevin Fitzgerald (Noblesville)

A 1987 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis where he played two seasons each for former big league pitcher Russ Kemmerer and Richard Bender, Noblesville High School assistant Kevin Fitzgerald served in the U.S. Marine Corps 1989-94 then was an assistant to Duke Burns at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis (2000-02), Dave Mundy at Sheridan (Ind.) High School (2003 and 2004) and head coach at Sheridan (2005 and 2006).

“He was fantastic,” says Fitzgerald of Kemmerer. “There were so many lessons I learned that I didn’t realize I was learning at the time.

“For him, it was really teaching about life and baseball was just the tool. He said baseball is played on a six-inch field — the six inches between your ears. There are no such things as physical errors — they’re all mental. You weren’t prepared.”

Bender, who had big shoes to fill replacing the popular Kemmerer, is credited by Fitzgerald for the opportunity to explore leadership.

Fitzgerald joined Justin Keever’s staff at Noblesville in 2007.

The Millers won a Class 4A state championship in 2014.

Involved in all aspects of the program, Fitzgerald’s primary focuses is on hitters and outfielders. He also coaches third base and runs the Millers’ analytics.

“I take a lot of stuff off Justin’s plate,” says Fitzgerald. “Being an assistant coach at Noblesville High School is a better gig than a lot of head coaching jobs around the state.

“(Assistants are) all given specific areas (by Keever). Having that kind of trust and autonomy is one of the keys to the program

“He’s built an unbelievable culture in the program that was evident from Day 1.

“We have pretty intense discussions as a staff on direction. One of Justin’s gifts is to pull that together. When we walk out the door, it’s one voice. It’s a purely collaborative process.

“Justin Keever, to me, is the quintessential baseball coach. It’s truly a joy to be on his staff.”

Fitzgerald says Millers hitters are approach-driven.

“Two strikes and less than two strikes are the only two counts that matter,” says Fitzgerald. “With less then two strikes we’re looking to do damage.

“We want to grind pitchers up so we’re aggressively patient. We’ll give up a pitcher’s strike early in the count because it’s not one we can do damage with. But we’ll wait for a mistake.

“The best way to hit a breaking ball is to don’t miss the fastball.”

Points of emphasis for outfielders include trying not to let balls hit the ground and throwing the ball to the right place so runners don’t move up.

Fitzgerald keeps a freebies chart that tracks trail-runner advances.

“We look to win the freebie war every game,” says Fitzgerald. “We want to score plus-5 or more.”

Tools like FlightScope and Rapsodo are used to gather analytic metrics that can be studied and adapted to what Noblesville seeks to accomplish in individual player development.

“It’s not about maintenance,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s about being progressive and moving to the next level.”

Fitzgerald’s resume also includes a stint as executive director and coach for the Indiana Mustangs and working at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind.

Fitzgerald has gained an appreciation for where the Hoosier State stands in the diamond world.

“I don’t think Indiana high school baseball gets enough credit from the public for being as good as it is,” says Fitzgerald. “big-time college programs are always recruiting in Indiana. They know.”

When talking with a coach from a Southeastern Conference school, Fitzgerald asked the difference between players from warm-weather states and places like Indiana.

“He said that northern players are academy players,” says Fitzgerald. “They lack some of that instruct. They don’t play (as much as warm-weather players). 

“That’s our biggest challenge during the off-season (at Noblesville High). We try to be game-like with game speed and tempo indoors. We do anything we can to create instinct.”

Kevin works for Amazon and holds a Business Management degree and is working toward at Quantitative Economics degree from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Brett Windmiller (Fort Wayne Carroll)

A 1991 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School, Brett Windmiller has been on the staff of head coach Dave Ginder at Carroll High School in Allen County since the 2003 season.

The Chargers were Class 3A state runners-up in 1999 and Class 4A state champions in 2010 and 2011.

“(Coach Ginder) understands the things to be good at,” says Windmiller. “His practice organization great and he’s very aware of time.

“If we’re not doing something right, we move on. We’re not going to beat a dead horse.

“As an assistant coach he’s great to work for. You truly feel like you have a say in things. He asks our opinion.”

Windmiller guides the Chargers’ catchers and infielders.

He expects catchers to learn how to run a game (Ginder and Windmiller do not call pitches).

“We teach our kids this is what we want in certain counts,” says Windmiller. “Practice is where we teach. Kids are freed up to play at game time.”

The Chargers talk about the mental game and preparing for each pitch as taught by Brian Cain.

“Players on our 2011 team were masters of the mental game before we emphasized it,” says Windmiller. “They flat out knew they were going to win. 

“It was an amazing group.”

Ginder played at Carroll (Class of 1991) for Chris Adams and at Anderson University for IHSBCA, Anderson U., and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon.

Windmiller played his freshmen year for IHSBCA/Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer Lance Hershberger and sophomore through senior seasons for his father and NEIBA Hall of Famer Larry Windmiller.

Brett played four seasons at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) for IHSBCA/NEIBA Hall of Famer Mike Frame, graduating in December 1995.

Before landing at Carroll, Brett was on his father’s Dwenger staff from 1996-2002.

Hershberger, who was an elementary physical education teacher for Windmiller, taught his players about focus and intensity.

“It started with him from the time you started playing catch until you got on the bus and went home,” says Windmiller. “All those things in between mattered. Not that you’re going to dwell on it afterward but this current pitch or at-bat is important.

“If you weren’t ready, you were going to hear about it from Lance.”

Hershberger reminded his players that there was a difference between baseball during the high school and summer seasons. There’s a finality to the high school season while the summer — though very important for development and exposure — is a series of games and unattached tournaments.

Brett did not feel the stigma of being a coach’s son.

“It may have just been the guys I played with,” says Brett. “In hindsight, it may be that dad handled it real well.

“I enjoyed playing for him. There were expectations with the way he wanted you to play. He was good at detecting an issue by watching you swing or throw.”

In his son’s eyes, Larry Windmiller was pretty even-keeled.

“He never got upset,” says Brett. “He was kind of in the middle all the time.

“He really let us play. We had a lot of kids with talent. We played loose and had a lot of success.”

The Dwenger Saints bowed out to Highland in the 1991 South Bend Semistate championship game.

At Huntington, Windmiller learned to play with intensity but not to let a mistake or a perceived bad call fester.

“The intensity of a baseball game is there,” says Windmiller. “It has to be. You learn the moments of the game where that’s appropriate. It cannot drive you into making a second mistake. You can’t carry your at-bat into the field. My red light was strike calls I didn’t agree with.

“Coach Frame was great as far as getting me to try to understand that I’m killing myself when I’m doing that. He helped me lose a little bit of the football mentality.”

Windmiller says he and his fellow coaches have matured over the years and tries set a good example for the players.

“When something bad happens, they are going to look at us,” says Windmiller. “We want to be cheering them on and saying let’s go to the next pitch.”

His first spring at Carroll, Windmiller coached junior varsity players with Mike Klopfenstein.

“JV’s great,” says Windmiller. “There’s no all-conference. There’s no media. It’s just young kids learning how to play baseball the correct way.”

At the JV level, win-loss record is irrelevant. It’s about developing. Between the spring and summer ball and getting in the weight room, a player can make big jumps from one season to the next.

Windmiller is a public address announcer for many Carroll sports, including football, boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling. He has coached eighth grade football and seventh grade girls basketball in the system.

He is also an NEIBA board member and president of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation, running the Red Carrington League with Richard Brown. 

Brett took over the FWBF post after the passing of NEIBA Hall of Famer Dick Crumback in 2019. 

The NEIBA presents the Dick Crumback Player of the Year annually to an area ballplayer. The honor comes with a $1,000 donation ($500 from the Crumback family and $500 for the FWBF) to the program of the recipient.

“It’s a pretty tight-knit baseball community in Fort Wayne,” says Windmiller, who has also been a Wildcat League coach.

Brett, a sixth grade science teacher at Carroll Middle School, and wife Kara Windmiller (secretary to Chargers athletic director Dan Ginder) live in the Carroll school district and have two daughters — high school sophomore Ryli and seventh grader Hannah.

Brett’s sister Kari played volleyball and basketball at Dwenger.

Rhett Welliever is an assistant baseball coach at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School. (Susan Ehrlich Photo)
Landon McBride is an assistant baseball coach at New Palestine (Ind.) High School.
Mike Zeilinga is an assistant baseball coach at New Palestine (Ind.) High School.
Kevin (right), with wife Melia, is an assistant baseball coach at New Albany (Ind.) High School.
Steve Ford is an assistant baseball coach at Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind.
Jim Kominkiewicz is an assistant baseball coach at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (The Pennant Photo)
Kevin Fitzgerald is an assistant baseball coach at Noblesville (Ind.) High School.
Brett Windmiller is an assistant baseball coach at Carroll High School in Allen County, Ind.

Motz wants to keep the ball rolling for Crawfordsville Athenians

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Motz was part of the baseball legacy at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School as a player and an assistant coach.

And now he’s laying the groundwork for his first season as the Athenians head coach.

Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate who helped win 105 games during Motz’s four varsity seasons (1992-95) with a Sheridan Regional title in 1995, follows John Froedge as the man in charge. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer let Motz know that the 2020 season — which did not happen because of COVID-19 — would be his last after 39 years.

Baseball at Crawfordsville is now led by Motz, long-time pitching coach Rhett Welliever, varsity/junior varsity assistant Kurt Schlicher and JV coach Tony Bean.

“Coach Froedge and Coach Welliever have equal respect from me,” says Motz. “I want to make sure we still emphasize the important pieces that created this program and use up-to-date relevant stuff that kids will buy into.

“It’s different leadership, but we want to keep this train moving along.”

Motz, 44, held an organizational meeting last weekend that brought together all the coaches in the system from Crawfordsville Youth Baseball for ages 5-12 (an organization Motz led for almost a decade) to a Crawfordsville-only travel team to junior high to high school and got feedback about what has led to successful baseball in the Montgomery County community.

“I wanted them to know I appreciate all that they do,” says Motz. “You have to have a large group of people around me to continue this baseball program.

“Make sure the kids that get the most out of their years playing youth, middle school and high school baseball.”

Motz has been working on an outline that can be used at the lower levels.

“I want to make sure the kids are hearing the right words and that we’re emphasizing the right things when kids are swinging the bat or swinging the bat.”

Motz is also Crawfordsville’s strength & conditioning coach — teaching four classes at the high school and two at the middle school while working with athletes in all sports. He lays down a foundation and adds sports-specific elements.

As an Athenians assistant to Froedge 2007-10, Motz was able to implement functional training exercises and monitor nutrition for a baseball team which produced an IHSAA Class 3A state champion in 2008.

“Those are the things I’m passionate about,” says Motz. “Those kids were strong and 100 healthy when that (2008) postseason began.”

Motz says its easier to develop one-on-one relationships in the weight room than the classroom. 

“You see the true character,” says Motz. “When the going gets tough, who’s going to bear down?

“You share all that information with other coaches.”

Motz, a 2001 Crawfordsville Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, finished his prep days with a .457 batting average, 25 home runs and 164 runs batted in. The IHSBCA Record Book shows th righty swinger third in career hits (187) and tied for sixth in career runs scored (163).

He batted in slots 5-7 in the batting order as a freshman. No. 3 as a sophomore and junior and lead-off — to get more at-bats — as a senior. Depending on the situation, he played second base, shortstop or third base and also pitched. He was selected for the 1995 IHSCA North-South All-Star Series.

His 16U and 17U summers, Motz was with the Indiana Bulls travel organization with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Dennis Kas as head coach and Tom Linkmeyer, Kevin Stephenson and Brent Mewhinney as assistants.

Motz went to the University of Evansville, where he spent five years with U of E Athletics Hall of Famer Jim Brownlee in charge of Purple Aces baseball.

“He truly loved his players,” says Motz of Brownlee. “I learned a lot about myself through those five years about being committed to a program and coach that saw something in me.

“I gave it all I had.”

The Aces coaching staff also featured Tim Brownlee — assistant to Jim Brownlee. Jim’s younger son and Tim’s younger brother — Ryan Brownlee — was a teammate to Motz.

Missing most of the 1997 season with as a medical redshirt (he wound up having Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery), Motz was with Evansville 1996-2000 and tallied 160 career runs.

He was the Opening Day third baseman and a relief pitcher in 1996. He spent most of his time at first base in 1998 and was the starting left fielder in 1999 and 2000.

Motz tied for the team lead in home runs with eight in 1999. He was named CoSIDA All-District V and to the Missouri Valley Conference Academic First Team in 2000 and Honorable Mention MVC Academic in 1998. He earned his degree from Evansville in Physical and Health Education.

Summers during and just after college were spent with the Quincy (Ill.) Gems, Springfield (Ill.) Rifles and Crawfordsville Eagles.

Teammates on the Matt Walker-coached Eagles include Matt McCarty (a Crawfordsville graduate who played in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization) and B.J. Schlicher (a North Montgomery High School graduate who played in the Philadelphia Phillies system).

Motz was given a chance to coach by Doug Schreiber as a Purdue University volunteer assistant in 2001 and 2002 while he was working toward his masters degree in Sport Pedagogy. Todd Murphy was also on that coaching staff. Motz also coached for the Indiana Bulls during his summers.

Brett married Jennifer, whom he knew from high school, about this time and decided not to take the nomadic path of a college coach while starting a family. 

Sons Austin and Wyatt played Crawfordsville Youth Baseball. Now a CHS junior, Austin Motz plays tennis and baseball. Eighth grader Wyatt Motz plays tennis, basketball and baseball. Jennifer Motz is currently on hiatus from her teaching job.

Brett Motz became an assistant to Brent Harmon at North Putnam High School in Rochdale, Ind., for the 2004 season then was Cougars head coach in 2005 and 2006. He still maintains contact with many of his former North Putnam players and looks forward to forming bonds at Crawfordsvlle where many of his former CYB players are now high schoolers.

“I like that emotional leadership you get with a team as a head coach,” says Motz.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge (left) has handed over the head baseball reins of the Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School program to 1995 CHS graduate Brett Motz (right). (Susan Ehrlich Photo)
Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. (Susan Ehrlich Photo)

Former Indiana U., MLB infielder Morandini enjoying ambassador role with Phillies

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mickey Morandini’s baseball talents took him through 1,298 games in Major League Baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays.

The lefty-swinging infielder played in 1,298 regular-season games plus the 1993 World Series and got to represent the USA in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He has coached in the Phillies organization and is now in his third year as a team ambassador.

A big part of Morandini’s diamond development came in his four seasons (1985-88) at Indiana University, playing for Bob Morgan who served as Hoosiers head coach 1984-2005.

“(Morgan) worked our butts off,” says Morandini, who went to IU from Leechburg (Pa.) Area Middle/Senior High School near Pittsburgh, where he played for Blue Devils head coach Bob Obendorf. “Everyday was a grind.

“I got a lot better and a lot stronger.”

Morgan operated with a very set routine. He rolled out drill after drill and players moved from station to station when the whistle blew.

“It was upset and there was a lot of throwing,” says Morandini. “There were no breaks.

“At the end of a two-hour practice, you were exhausted.”

Morandini played third base as a freshman and then switched to shortstop. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1987 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but decided not to sign and went back to Indiana for his senior season and earned second-team All-America honors.

“It was a tough decision to go back to college,” says Morandini. “I’m from Pittsburgh and grew up a huge Pirates fan. But I had the opportunity to play on the Olympic team.”

Morandini, who was dating Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate and future wife Peg, was chosen to go to Korea and helped the USA capture gold at Seoul. First, there was a U.S. tour at minor league parks then games in Italy and Japan. 

“It was an awesome experience,” says Morandini. “I was in the Olympic village hanging out with other athletes.”

Morandini was close to an Elementary Education degree at Indiana. He just didn’t do his student teaching.

Mickey and wife Peg have three sons — Jordan, Griffin and Braydon. The two older boys now live in Indianapolis. Mickey enjoys coming back to IU baseball reunions each October. When the 2020 event was canceled, he put together an impromptu gathering of about 18 players who played golf and spent time together at a lake near Bloomington, Ind.

Chosen in the fifth round of the 1988 MLB Draft by the Phillies, Morandini began his professional career in 1989 by hitting .338 in 63 games at Low-A Spartanburg, .302 in 17 games at High-A Clearwater and .351 in 48 games at Double-A Reading.

“I turned a lot of heads,” says Morandini, who hit .260 in 139 games in 1990 at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre and made his MLB debut with Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 1990. 

His first big-league hit was a 10th-inning single off San Diego Padres right-hander Greg Harris. He later scored the game-winning run on a single by John Kruk.

Morandini, who played most of his MLB games as a second baseman, collected four hits in the 1993 National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves and one in the 1993 World Series against the Blue Jays.

He was an NL All-Star in 1995, the year he hit .283. 

Morandini spent the 1998 and 1999 seasons with the Cubs.

By the time he was dealt to Chicago a few days before Christmas in 1997 Morandini had already lived in northwest Indiana the better part of eight years.

“It was a lot of fun,” says Morandini of his time with the Cubs. “It was a perfect fit. I could drive back and forth to the ballpark. I love Wrigley (Field).”

The 1998 season gave Morandani an up-close view of a pennant race, Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game and the home run battle between Sammy Sosa of Chicago and Mark McGwire of St. Louis.

“It was great to be a part of,” says Morandini, who appeared in the National League Divisional Series for the Cubs against Atlanta and appeared in the same lineup with another former IU playerKevin Orie — 44 times in 1998.

Mickey Mo was with both the Phillies (91 games) and Blue Jays (35 games) in 2000. He went to spring training with Toronto before a rotator cuff issues essentially ended his playing career.

Morandini posted a .268 batting average (1,222-for-4558) with 597 runs, 209 doubles, 54 triples, 32 home runs, 351 runs batted in, 123 stolen bases, 437 bases on balls, .338 on-base percentage and .359 slugging percentage. He finished his career with a .989 fielding percentage as a second baseman.

With the Blue Jays, Morandini was reunited with Jim Fregosi, who had been the Phillies manager for the end of the 1991 season through 1996.

“He had been in the game a long, long time as a player and a coach,” says Morandini of Fregosi. “He knew base ball. He was he first manager that brought me to the big leagues and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

“For him, as long as you played the game and played it the right way, that’s all he could ask for. He knew when to get on you and knew when to pat you on the back. He was really good with dealing with personalities.”

Back in Indiana, Morandini enjoyed coaching his sons in youth and travel baseball. 

He was approached about becoming the head baseball coach at Valparaiso High School.

“It was intriguing,” says Morandini of the opportunity. “I love coaching kids.

“I jumped on it.”

Morandini led the Vikings program for four seasons (2007-10) while Jordan and Griffin were at neighboring Chesterton High School.

“I was going to continue then minor league opportunity came up,” says Morandini, who spent five years coaching in the minors and two in the big leagues prior to Gabe Kapler becoming manager and hiring his own coaches — all with the Phillies organization — before taking his current position. 

As ambassador, the 54-year-old Morandini is the face of the organization and makes many public appearances and attends games at Citizens Bank Ballpark

“I mingle with fans and season ticket holders, go to hospitals and play in charity golf tournaments,” says Morandini, who spends most of his time in the Philly area with a short trip to Clearwater, Fla., to entertain sponsors at spring training. “I love it. It’s an awesome job. I get to meet and greet people.”

Mickey Morandini talks about gripping a baseball. (Philadelphia Phillies Video)
Mickey Morandini, who played baseball at Indiana University 1985-88 and then in Major League Baseball from 1990-2000 with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays, is now a team ambassador for the Phillies. (Philadelphia Phillies Photo)

Andrean, Saint Joseph’s College grad Jaworski GM for Daytona Tortugas

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Jaworski took a piece of his northwest Indiana upbringing and his love for baseball with him to sunny Florida. 

Born in Merrillville, Ind., Jaworski few up in Crown  Point, Ind., attended St. John The Evangelist School in Saint John, Ind., for grades 1-8 then graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville in 2003 and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2007.

Primarily a catcher in high school, Jaworski was a catcher, outfield, first baseman and designated hitter over his four college seasons while majoring in Mass Communications and minoring in Business.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the coaches I’ve had,” says Jaworski, who played for Dave Pishkur at Andrean and Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph. Jaworski was a Pumas assistant on O’Dette’s staff in 2008. 

Pishkur, who picked up his 1,000th career victory and surpassed LaPorte legend Ken Schreiber to become Indiana’s all-time coaching wins leader in 2019, has led the 59ers to eight state championships (2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019).

O’Dette has amassed more than 500 NCAA Divison II victories in 20 seasons — 17 at Saint Joseph’s and three at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

When Saint Joe closed its doors after the 2017 season, O’Dette landed at Saint Leo, which means he is a couple hours’ drive from Jaworski. 

“Our relationship goes pretty deep,” says Jaworski of Coach O. “His kids were in my wedding — all that stuff.”

Jim and wife Stephanie Jaworski are expecting their first child in March 2021.

Other SJC alums (#ForeverPumas) cling to their alma mater while they’ve also adopted Saint Leo and have been known to show up at Saint Leo game pre-COVID-19.

“There are a lot of great memories at Gil Hodges Field for sure,” says Jaworski. “It’s a loyal group,” says Jaworski.”

The 2021 season will be Jaworski’s 12th with the Daytona Torturgas, a minor league affiliate since 2015 of the Cincinnati Reds (the team was tied to the Chicago Cubs 1993-2014). Since November 2009, he has been general manager since December 2018.

He has also held the positions of ticket and group sales manager, director of group sales, vice president of business development and assistant general manager while with Daytona.

Jaworski was a media relations intern with the Lakeland (Fla.) Flying Tigers from January to November 2009.

As general manager, Jaworski has a hand in many aspects of operating the Tortugas. There are full-time and seasonal employees.

The cancellation of the 2020 Baseball Winter Meetings have slowed down the hiring process a little, but Jaworski expects internships to begin in January.

Last week, Major League Baseball extended invitations to 120 minor league teams and Reds also reached out to Daytona. The deadline for accepting those invites is Friday, Dec. 18.

“We need to make sure we gather all the information,” says Jaworski. “If make sure that move, it has to be what is best for the fans, city, community and team.

“It’s all about the game of baseball and doing things here in the community,” says Jaworski. “We’re growing the game we all know and love.

“That’s a pretty cool thing.”

It remains to be seen what league and level Daytona will land in for 2021. In recent years, the Tortugas were in the Advanced Class-A Florida State League. Going forward, Minor League Baseball will have Triple-A, Double-A, Advanced-A and Low-A with rookie-level leagues being eliminated or re-cast.

The pandemic wiped out the entire 2020 minor league season at historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark and there have been furloughs, but the team has hosted 50 to 60 events since the end of May. 

There has been everything from movie nights using the video board, small baseball tournaments and showcases on the artificial turf (installed for the 2019 season), a Bob Ross waiting classic, chicken sales, a dance recital, corporate outings and various awards programs for Volusia County schools. A second blood drive is slated to the park Thursday, Dec. 17.

“We utilize the ballpark as much as we can with health and safety being our No. 1 priority,” says Jaworski.

Jackie Robinson Ballpark opened in 1914 and has undergone many renovations over the years. Hall of Famer Robinson played there with Montreal Royals May 17, 1946.

Bethune-Cookman University, a member of the NCAA Division I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, practices and plays games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark.

Jim Jaworski, a graduate of Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., is the general manager of the Daytona (Fla.) Tortugas, an affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds. (Daytona Tortugas Photo)