Reinhardt reflects on two decades at Bethany Christian

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Only three men in the last half century have held the title of head baseball coach at Bethany Christian High School.

Dan Bodiker led the program 1966-95.

Jason Leichty served 1996-97.

Brent Reinhardt has been in charge 1998 to the present.

Reinhardt, who took a teaching job at the private school on the south side of Goshen the same academic year he assumed baseball coaching duties, has announced that this spring — his 20th — will be his last season as head coach.

While he plans to stay around baseball as a summer youth coach and remain in his role as varsity assistant girls basketball coach, he is stepping away from his spring diamond job.

The father of four (Brent and college sweetheart Marla have BC graduate and Grace College freshman Alex, junior Brooke, eighth grader Mia and fourth grader Jacoby) took the time this week to discuss his baseball past, present and future.

Alex has played junior varsity baseball this spring for the Lancers. The two girls are both athletes and Brent plans to see them play for Bethany in 2017-18. He also intends to form a 12U team in the Boys of Summer League that will include Jacoby and other Bethany students.

Stepping down in the spring will also give him more time for at-home projects and taking care of his sheep.

Reinhardt says he could see himself returning to high school baseball coaching someday, but as an assistant. He would leave the administrative work to the head coach.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association members who reach 20 years of service are designated as a “dinosaur” and receive a T-shirt declaring their jurassic credentials.

“It’s kind of interesting being a ‘dinosaur,’” says Reinhardt. “I just had opportunities earlier than most people did.

“But when you look around, there’s hardly anyone still around when I played (Reinhardt is a 1988 NorthWood High School graduate who played for Bob Riley and Dennis Myers before playing for DeVon Hoffman at Goshen College, where he met volleyball player and wife-to-be Marla Gerber).”

Bodiker and Hoffman are to be honored when Goshen visits Bethany at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 2. RedHawks head coach Josh Keister also played for Hoffman (who is also a former Goshen High head coach) at GC.

Even though Reinhardt is just 47, this is his 25th straight spring of leading teenagers with bats and balls. He was NorthWood’s head softball coach for five seasons before being hired at Bethany.

Why has he stuck around for two decades?

“I just love baseball and I love kids,” says Reinhardt. “I love the turning of winter into spring and the new life. That six to eight weeks just flies by.”

Reinhardt, a social studies teacher, has spread the game to non-players through baseball-themed Interterm/J-Term sessions.

One year, he took students to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Another time, he had them develop a minor league franchise where they had to pick the city, name the team, identify the ballpark food and construct a model of the stadium.

Reinhardt grew up a Chicago Cubs fan.

“It’s been a tradition in our family,” says Reinhardt. “Last year was pretty exciting.”

As a high schooler, Reinhardt’s favorite player was Ryne Sandberg. His favorite Cub from the 2016 World Series champions is Anthony Rizzo.

“I really like the way he plays and his leadership,” says Reinhardt. “I think he’s the face of the Cubs.”

Bethany is a Class 1A school with one IHSAA sectional title in school history (1987) and is often taking the field with teams full of players with more skill.

This gives the Bruins chances to see what it’s like to face challenges and overcome adversity.

“There’s a lot of lessons in just going out there and fighting and scratching and clawing and, at the end of the day, saying you gave it your best,” says Reinhardt. “Those are good life lessons.”

Teaching the fundamentals has also been fun for Reinhardt.

“Sometimes I’ve really had to break it down because we had some really inexperienced players in some years,” says Reinhardt. “You see a lot of improvement from freshmen to senior year if they stick with it. That’s gratifying to see that.”

A small school like Bethany allows students to get involved with many activities. Reinhardt knows he will be sharing his players with choir programs and other athletic teams.

“That’s just the way it is,” says Reinhardt. “We want to develop balanced kids who can do lots of things.”

It’s all the educational experiences that count.

“I’d like to win sectionals and state titles and those sorts of the things. But I’ll look back on all those great kids and see what they’re doing now and how they’re changing the world.

“Hopefully, they’ll look back and say baseball was fun. One of my biggest hopes is to have them playing catch with their children, taking them to games and passing on the love of baseball.”

BRENTREINHARDT

Brent Reinhardt has announced that 2017 is his 20th and last season as head baseball coach at Bethany Christian High School.

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Franklin College’s Marshall continually gets committed student-athletes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Getting a group of athletes to commit to a common goal.

That’s what coaches strive to do with their teams.

Lance Marshall has been able to get his Franklin College baseball players to bond for the good of the program and the school for nearly two decades now.

“The key is people,” says Marshall, who has led the NCAA Division III Grizzlies since the 1998 season. “Sometimes you may get more in the pitching department and sometimes you may get more in the hitting department. But we try to go get good guys and help them continue careers that they’re proud of. We’ve been fortunate to recruit terrific student-athletes.

“We all realize at some point athletic careers are going to come to an end.”

Franklin’s 2017 roster includes 31 players — 29 with hometowns in Indiana, one from Kentucky and one from Minnesota.

Wherever they come from, Marshall is proud to field a team of “hard-nosed, competitive guys who play hard and play the right way.”

Helping mold the team are assistants Grant Bellak and Vinny Trivisonno.

“These two young guys do a terrific job,” says Marshall. “I’m really fortunate to have them here.”

The Griz — off to a  16-9 start — are slated to play 27 games this spring in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, mostly in three-game series. The loop has opted to play 18 conference games in 2018 (nine doubleheaders).

“Baseball is played in series, especially at the big league level and D-I,” says Marshall. The pros to a three-game series is that there is a winner and loser in each if all three games are completed. The down side is the added expense of staying an extra night on the road.

“We’re in a very competitive conference,” says Marshall. “It seems like all the programs continue to get better.”

The 10-team HCAC (which has scheduled its 2017 postseason tournament May 11-13) has been represented in the D-III regional championship game four of the past five seasons — Rose-Hulman in 2014 and 2016, Manchester in 2012 and 2013.

The conference tournament winner receives an automatic bid to the regional. In 2015, the D-III tournament was expanded from 48 to 56 teams.

There are eight regionals with six or eight teams in each. Each regional champion advances to the D-III World Series May 26-31 in Appleton, Wis. Because of a scheduling conflict at Fox Cities Stadium, the 2018 World Series will be held at another location to be determined.

“I’d love to see the championship pool expanded to 64 teams,” says Marshall. “D-III is making a move to (four-team) regionals and (on-campus two-team) super regionals like DI. That’s an exciting change.”

Marshall is also part of the athletic administration. Working with Franklin athletic director Kerry Prather and fellow assistant AD Mary Johnston, Marshall has enjoyed being involved in all FC sports.

“I love being here and being able to support everything,” says Marshall. “We have a ton of outstanding coaches down here.”

Marshall is a 1988 graduate of Springfield (Ill.) High School, where he played for Jim Steinwart. In 2016, Steinwart’s Senators were IHSA Class 3A state runners-up.

Jim Pransky coached Marshall for one year at Quincy University and Bob Fabrizio coached him for three at Elmhurst College.

Marshall graduated from Elmhurst in 1993 and went on to be a graduate assistant for two years at Rockford College, assistant for two years at Elmhurst and also served as an instructor, regional director and manager of operations for Chicago White Sox Training Centers.

He was an associate scout for the Houston Astros from 1995-98.

LANCEMARSHALL

Lance Marshall has been head baseball coach at Franklin College since the 1998 season. He is also an assistant athletic director for the Grizzlies.

Relationships the most memorable thing for Ball State’s Eppers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Eppers can point to some memorable moments during his college diamond days.

The Ball State University senior baseball player is coming off a “career weekend” in which he went 10-of-13 at the plate with his third career home run plus a double, stolen base, sacrifice, four runs scored and three runs batted in.

The Cardinals stopped a nine-game losing skid with a three-game sweep at Western Michigan. BSU outscored the Broncos 46-17. Eppers went 5-for-5 in Game 2 of the series — the first five-hit game of his career.

“We had been pressing a little bit,” says Eppers, speaking for the team as a whole. “We started relaxing and having fun.”

On Tuesday, April 11, Eppers stayed hot with three more hits in an 11-2 win against visiting Valparaiso. In his last four games, he is 13-of-17, raising his average to a team-pacing .311.

Earlier in the 2017 season, Eppers was named Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week.

The 6-foot-4 outfielder strung together hits in eight consecutive plate appearances in his junior season of 2016, spanning two games against Dayton and one against Purdue.

The 2013 Elkhart Central High School graduate (he played center field and was the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner as the Steve Stutsman-coached Blue Blazers beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the ’13 Class 4A state title) also counts a victory against powerhouse Louisiana State in 2016 as a highlight.

As a sophomore in 2015, Eppers scored three runs against Akron and helped the Cardinals to the MAC tournament championship game.

But as outstanding as those achievements are, it’s the relationships that Eppers has made in his four BSU seasons that he cherishes most.

“I came on to this team not knowing anybody,” says Eppers. “My roommate, Sean Kennedy, had a monster weekend himself (at Western Michigan). He hit a grand slam and another home run and had a whole bunch of hits (Kennedy was 7-of-9 with nine RBI in three games). He and I are best friends. I’m going to be the best man in his wedding.

“The relationships that I’ve built, that’s what’s made college baseball worth it. Through the highs and the lows, the guys you’re around and that sense of brotherhood is heightened to a new level in college.”

Eppers roomed with right-handed pitcher B.J. Butler as a freshman and later shared a place with Kennedy and Alex Call (selected in the third round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox  after earning MAC Player of the Year honors in 2016) before Call moved on.

“(Sean) has been very versatile. He’s played every infield position this year. He’s kind of the anchor of our defense. Anywhere we need him, he’s there. With his bat, too. In the middle of the lineup, he’s been a heavy hitter … It was a good weekend for him and I in our apartment.”

Besides Eppers, Kennedy and Butler, the other BSU seniors are right-hander David Current, third baseman Alex Maloney (son of Ball State head coach Rich Maloney), first baseman Caleb Stayton and left-handers Evan Korson (a transfer from Northern Kentucky) and Kevin Marnon (a transfer from Akron).

Rich Maloney has enjoyed watching Eppers perform for the Cards.

“He’s very athletic,” says Maloney. “He covers a lot of ground in center field. He has really good speed. He competes really, really well.

“With the other guys we’ve been able to surround him with in his class, he’s been a really nice piece of the puzzle.

“He’s been a joy to coach.”

The past three seasons, that recruiting class has aided in an overall MAC title, two West division crowns and a tournament runner-up finish while averaging 34 wins.

“They’ve all gotten a taste of winning and enjoyed it and they certainly want to pass it on,” says Maloney. “They are leaders and they’re all going to end up graduating. It’s all good and Matt is certainly a big part of it.”

How does Eppers prefer to do his leading?

“Day-to-day, I just try to lead by example,” says Eppers, who has played in 188 career games with 147 starts. “I’m not really one of the hoorah guys.

“I don’t speak just to speak. When I have to be a vocal leader, I pick my times. I feel like that’s not only benefitted me here but my whole life. When you can do that it makes your word go a little bit farther.”

Maloney coached Ball State 1996-2002 then at Michigan 2003-12 before returning to BSU for the 2013 season. A staple as he took over a program that had not been winning was “Gotta Believe” rally cry (#GottaBelieve).

“The first thing in building a program is you’ve got to get everybody to believe,” says Maloney, whose 2017 assistants are Scott French, Dustin Glant and Ray Skjold. “They’ve got to believe in the coaches. They’ve got to believe in the vision. They’ve got to believe in the system. They’ve got to believe in themselves. They’ve got to believe in their teammates. If you get that going then you have a chance to be successful.”

Facing the toughest schedule of Maloney’s BSU coaching career (win vs. Maryland, four losses to both Oregon State and Kent State and defeats to defending national champion Coastal Carolina plus setbacks against Louisville and West Virgina), Ball State got off to an 11-9 start in 2017 then hit a slide once the MAC part of the slate began.

“We came close in several or them, but couldn’t get over the top,” says Maloney. “(Against Western Michigan), we were able to break through.

Eppers has bought in to Maloney’s belief system.

“You gotta believe that you can get the job done,” says Eppers. “That’s something he’s instilled in all of us.”

“The whole reason I came to Ball State was the vision that he sold. To his credit, he did it. He promised us a new field, improved schedules and improved skills and we got it.

“No matter who we’re playing, you can see it in his eyes. He truly believes Ball State is going to win … Coach has taught us not to ever take a back seat to anybody.”

Since Eppers’ sophomore year, Ball Diamond has been covered with artificial turf. This is a growing trend in the northern U.S., where the maintenance is lower and teams are able to play more games even in cold and wet weather.

Another major difference been grass and turf is the speed of the game.

“On turf, everything is a lot faster,” says Eppers. “A single may turn into a double; a double may turn into a triple. Especially at our field, it plays very fast … It’s probably given me a few more triples, too, so I appreciate it.”

Of 33 starts for a 15-18 squad, Eppers has been in center field for 29 games and right field for four.

“Center has always been my favorite position, where I feel most comfortable,” says Eppers. “You’re the shortstop of the outfield in a way. You’re supposed to be the best all-around defensive player in the outfield. Something I’ve always taken pride in is tracking down balls and trying to make catches other people can’t make.”

Eppers, who hits from the right side, was in the No. 8 slot in the batting order during his recent hot weekend in Kalamazoo, but has appeared in every hole but Nos. 3 and 4 this spring and has led off eight times.

“Everyday I have to check, but it’s not that big of a deal,” says Eppers. “I know my job is to get on base. I’m not a guy who’s going to hit a lot of home runs. I do have a few extra base hits. That’s where I hit the gaps and I’m able to run.”

While he’s taken hundreds of fly balls in the outfield to improve his defense and bulked up to 202 pounds with work in the weight room, Eppers has also adjusted his approach at the plate. He has become more knowledgeable about situational hitting and what pitches he can connect with the best.

“Early in my career I was very vulnerable to the slider and pitcher-advantage counts,” says Eppers. “Now, I’m a tougher out. When the slider is in the dirt, I’m able to lay off that pitch.

“This year I’ve really worked at hitting pitches in the (strike) zone I know I can barrel up. I’m not chasing as many pitches.”

Eppers, 22, is scheduled to graduate in May with a “high stakes” degree in entrepreneurial management.

“It’s basically a pass-fail major,” says Eppers, who was on the MAC all-academic team in 2016 and carried 3.555 grade-point average in the fall. “For a year, you write a business plan, fine tune it and then Wednesday (April 12) we present it in a room with a panel of judges. If they like what you have to say, they pass you. If they don’t, they fail you. If you fail, you have to opportunity to come back next year and re-try or take a couple some classes and (graduate with a different major).

“It puts some stress on you.”

Eppers and his business partner will present a plan on a not-for-profit gym and counseling service for veterans, military members and first responders in the Indianapolis area.

While he is exploring his post-graduation options, Eppers says he is leaning toward staying on the diamond.

“I want to keep playing baseball as long as I can,” says Eppers. “When I’m not allowed to play anymore I’ll have to re-evaluate my professional life.

“For right now I’m just focused on playing baseball and having fun. I’m trying to play every game like it’s my last.”

MATTEPPERSRUNS

Matt Eppers contributes speed to the Ball State University baseball team. The Elkhart Central High School graduate is in his senior season. (Ball State Photo)

MATTEPPERS

Matt Eppers has played in 188 baseball games as a Ball State Cardinal through Tuesday, April 11. (Ball State Photo)

Enthusiasm follows Schrage to Butler

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Schrage does not smile 24 hours day.

It only seems that way.

An upbeat demeanor has followed him through life and a lengthy baseball coaching career.

“I don’t think you can accomplish anything if you are not excited and enthusiastic about it,” says Schrage, who turns 56 this month. “I love going to my job everyday.”

Schrage is in his 29th overall season and first at Butler University in Indianapolis. He has been a head coach in more than 1,500 games and recently won his 750th.

“I feel really fortunate to still be coaching,” says Schrage. “It’s been a fun journey.”

A head coach since 1988, Schrage served at Waldorf (Iowa), Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State before landing in Indy.

“Butler is a great fit for me,” says Schrage. Daughters Katy (a Butler graduate) and Bri (a Ball State graduate) both live and work in Indianapolis. “For five years, I was 14 hours away (in Brookings, S.D.).”

Schrage played for Jim Hendry at Creighton University and got his start in coaching when Hendry sent him to St. Thomas University in Florida to be a graduate assistant on the staff of Paul Mainieri.

After that, Schrage was an assistant at Creighton and also was a player/coach for the Queensland Rams Club Team in Australia.

Hendry, the former Chicago Cubs general manager and current special assistant to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, has a son (John) playing baseball at the University of Indianapolis and has been able to catch up with Schrage when he’s in town.

Schrage followed Mainieri as Notre Dame head coach. The friends see each other every year at the American Baseball Coaches Association national convention (the event is coming to Indy Jan. 4-7, 2018). Mainieri is now head coach at Louisiana State University.

With the Bulldogs, Schrage embraces The Butler Way — a set of principles established many years ago by famed coach Tony Hinkle.

Barry Collier has been credited for resurrecting the concepts of humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness when he was the school’s head basketball coach and has continued to promote The Butler Way for all sports as athletic director.

“These are the same ideals I have,” says Schrage. “We are developing our players as human beings. They are learning to deal with adversity and overcoming it and becoming a positive influence — on and off the court (or field).”

While Schrage, who is assisted by Ben Norton, Andy Pascoe and Brian Meyer, inherited the current Butler roster (which features 11 players from Indiana hometowns), he was well aware of the diamond talent produced in the Hoosier State.

When he steered Evansville to 43 wins, Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles and advancement to the NCAA Charlottesville Regional finals in 2006, the Purple Aces had several state-trained players.

“That spoke well of the quality of high school baseball (in Indiana),” says Schrage. “The coaches do a tremendous job in running their programs.”

Schrage says the exposure that Indiana players receive at places like Grand Park in Westfield and through the evaluation efforts of Prep Baseball Report are growing the game here.

When he was still coaching in Iowa, Schrage worked at one of the first Perfect Game showcases and now that company is touting itself as the world’s largest baseball scouting service.

“In this media world with Facebooking and all this information out there, it’s very helpful (to college coaches),” says Schrage. “When I first got into coaching, I had to beat the bushes and find players in the small towns. Now, there’s no more secrets. It’s opened up tremendous opportunities for the student-athletes. It’s nothing but advantageous to coaches, kids and their families.”

Butler plays in the Big East Conference with Creighton, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier. The conference tournament is scheduled for May 25-28 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., the same stadium as the College World Series. The Big East tournament winner will receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Division I tournament.

BUTLERBULLDOGS

Butler University baseball versus St. Louis University March 19, 2017.
Butler University baseball versus St. Louis University March 19, 2017.

Dave Schrage (left in blue sweatshirt) follows a play in his first season as head baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. This is his 29th overall season as a head coach. (Brent Smith Photo)

DAVESCHRAGE2

A head coach since 1988, Dave Schrage (middle) served at Waldorf (Iowa), Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State before landing at Butler. (Brent Sm)

Outlook on baseball, life changes for Crown Point’s Strayer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Discipline and dedication are still important to Steve Strayer.

Crown Point High School’s head baseball coach (2017 is his 15th season) holds to the concepts that’s made him successful (the Bulldogs have won seven sectionals, five regionals and six Duneland Athletic Conference titles on Strayer’s watch).

“We have to keep kids accountable. That’s important,” says Strayer. “The way the culture is today, people look the other way on things. That doesn’t do us any good as a society.

“I believe in being disciplined. But I’ve been a little less rigid.”

On March 18, 2016, Strayer’s outlook changed when he suffered a stroke.

“I didn’t have to go through any rehab or speech therapy,” says Strayer. “I was fortunate I recovered so well. I think I missed a week.”

Strayer, who is also a math teacher at CPHS, went through the season and school year before he realized his level of fatigue.

“I felt fine, but as the year went on, I was getting worn out and I didn’t realize how worn out I was,” says Strayer. “Once the season was over with, I really had to recuperate.”

With time to rest and the help of his wife Jennifer (they will be married 20 years in 2017), Strayer is close to feeling like his old self at 50 and in his 27th overall season as a coach.

“I feel very good,” says Strayer. “I’m very sharp mentally. I don’t think I was very sharp last year. I wasn’t always aware of the little things.”

He just makes sure to get 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

Helping the Dogs alone are a coaching staff full of Region graduates — Matt McCaleb varsity (Chesterton Class of 1997), Brett Keeler varsity (Munster 2009), Matt Zurbriggen (Crown Point 2009) with the varsity, Dave Hoffman (Crown Point 2006) and Austin Atherton (Crown Point 2011) with the junior varsity and Scott Retig (Crown Point 1985) and Steve Lowe (Crown Point 2011) with the freshmen. Former assistant Jose Andrade (Crown Point 2011) has also had a big impact in recent seasons. Zubriggen, Hoffman, Atherton, Lowe and Andrade all played at CP for Strayer while Retig played for Ed Sherry.

The Bulldogs tend to carry 15-18 players per team. Strayer says the number depends players being able to accept their responsibilities within the team structure.

“We constantly monitor and talk with our players about their roles,” says Strayer. “Some of them are not happy with the roles, but they are a good teammate and fulfill the role. A lot of times, we will cut a decent player because we know they will not be happy with being a role player.”

Crown Point is a baseball-crazy community.

“A lot of the parents and kids are into it,” says Strayer. “It’s very competitive. They’re playing a lot of games and trying to improve their skills.”

Cal Ripken and travel teams often practice at the high school fieldhouse. Players also attend summer and winter camps put on by CPHS.

With Chesterton, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso in the DAC, Crown Point needs to stay on top of its game to stay in the title mix.

“You have to have some discipline on the baseball field to be able to compete,” says Strayer. “All of these other schools have a lot of talent also.”

Strayer-coached clubs strive to be proficient with base running, defense, drawing walks and bunting.

“Doing the little things can get you over the top,” says Strayer. “My better teams have always done those teams well.”

Strayer takes pride in having developed strong players and productive citizens. CP has produced its share of academic all-staters.

“Year after year, we have very competitive, hard-working teams,” says Strayer. “We get a lot of classy individuals that go on to (college) and prosper.”

Before arriving at Crown Point, Strayer was head coach at Boone Grove for 10 seasons. During the span, the Wolves took six sectional, four regional and seven Porter County Conference crowns. A highlight of Strayer’s career came in 1996 when BG beat LaPorte 3-2 in the championship game of the LaPorte Regional.

“That was probably my most exciting win,” says Strayer, who was 29 at the time and going against Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber. “They were pretty loaded.

“I was very young and naive and didn’t know what I was doing.”

Strayer, a former IHSBCA president and district representative, graduated from Prairie Heights High School in 1985. He attended Calvin College for one year and transferred to Manchester University, where he graduated in 1990. He was an assistant for two seasons at Prairie Heights before taking over at Boone Grove.

STEVESTRAYER

Steve Strayer is in his 15th season as head baseball coach at Crown Point High School, 25th as a head coach and 27th overall. (Crown Point Photo)

Getting players ready for next level what it’s all about for Delagarza, Summit City Sluggers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Mark Delagarza sees it, there are two paths for travel baseball organizations.

Some like the game but are not that intense about it. To Delagarza, that describes 80 percent of Indiana teams.

The rest are serious about competition and learning.

“I’m in that 20 percent,” says Delagarza, who founded the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. “We try to do things right and develop players.”

Among the many alumni to play in college or beyond are major leaguers Kevin Kiermaier and Jarrod Parker.

Delagarza, who runs the Sluggers with Greg VanMeter and Steve Devine, says there are three reasons that players are in summer baseball — they want to get to the next level; they wish to get better; or they play because their parents say they must get a job if they don’t.

“I can deal with two out of the three,” says Delagarza.

At 57, Delagarza has been involved with baseball as a player or coach since age 10. He moved from Janesville, Wis., to Fort Wayne to follow his career at General Motors. He was with GM for 33 years.

Besides the Sluggers, he has been a high school head coach at Southern Wells and an assistant at Norwell (where sons Nick and Andy played) and Columbia City as well as an assistant at Manchester University. He has also led the Twins Scout teams in fall baseball and has served as an associate scout for the Minnesota Twins (he still counts supervisor Bill Milos as a good friend in the game) and New York Mets.

The Sluggers started with one team and moved from 12U to 18U as Andy Delagarza and his teammates got older. When Andy went on to college baseball (at Coastal Carolina), Mark was approached about keeping it going and Summit City hit the re-set button at 15U.

Eventually, younger squads were added to a growing group and the emphasis continued to be getting players ready for college ball.

“Five or six years ago, I realized that kids stay committed to the same (travel ball) program,” says Delagarza. “If you don’t get them when they’re young, you might not get them at all.”

Today, the Sluggers field seven squads (12U, 13U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and College). Younger teams are just beginning their season of 45 to 60 games with older squads joining in for about 40 contests as the high school and college seasons are concluding.

Why so many games?

“It’s a necessary thing,” says Delagarza. “Kids don’t know how to play unless they play. They need to play to learn the game. You don’t hear people say you’re doing too many math or spelling problems.

“In Indiana, we can’t play too much.”

With games at Huntington University, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan, Manchester and Saint Francis, college squads play in the Indiana Summer Collegiate League (other squads for 2017 are to be the Kekiongas, Panthers and Flippin’ Frogs). The league offers no housing and is made up mostly of area athletes. Cost is $500 per player.

Fees can be defrayed for other players with optional monthly fundraisers.

Summit City winds up the season in late July and holds tryouts for the next season in August at Homier Park in Huntington (site of the Sluggers’ Standing Up To Cancer Tournament for ages U9 to U14 June 9-11).

“If we wait until September or October, other organizations take the players,” says Delagarza. “We’ll play games every weekend in September.”

For older teams, many of those games are against collegiate squads.

“It challenges them and gives them the chance to see how good college players are,” says Delagarza. “We’re trying to educate them. But we spend most of time educating parents. I tell those going on spring break to get off the beach and go see a college baseball game (to see what it’s all about).”

During the fall and winter, the Sluggers train at a facility in Huntington.

Delagarza coaches the 15U team. Other current Summit City head coaches are Mark Fisher (12U), Brent Alwine (13U), Matt Stidam (14U), Lance Hershberger (16U), Todd Armstrong (17U) and Lea Selvey (College).

Finding the ones Delagarza wants is not always easy. He has found that many high school coaches are tired at the end of their seasons and don’t wish to coach in the summer and fall.

“It’s trying,” says Delagarza. “I don’t like dads coaching. I like skilled coaches with knowledge.”

If Delagarza had his way, summer baseball needs more direction. One place to start is to have divisions so that top level teams would not be grouped with lower ones at tournaments.

“We’re under the same umbrella and it’s all watered down,” says Delagarza. “These dad teams should be in house ball. I don’t mean to sound arrogant.

“We beat someone 22-1 and it does no one any good. That doesn’t help develop a player. The only way to fix it is to have major tournament directors filter the teams they bring in.”

Delagarza would like to see more league play where there is time for pregame and postgame routines.

He wishes Indiana would return to more games where younger teams don’t play on high school/college-sized fields before the players are ready, which to him means 15U. That usually means the mound is at 54 feet from the plate and the bases 80 feet apart (as opposed to 60 feet, 6 inches and 90 feet).

Since pitchers have a tough time throwing strikes at the longer distance, games tend to be very slow.

Delagarza notes that son Andy did not throw a breaking ball until his junior year at Norwell and advises young pitchers to do the same, getting hitters out with location and by changing speeds.

“Fill the strike zone with fastballs on both sides of the plate and see what happens,” says Delagarza.

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Mark Delagarza (shown when coaching for Manchester University) started the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. The Fort Wayne-based organization plans to field seven teams in 2017.

Sassanella brings passion to Brebeuf baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Sassanella played baseball with zeal.

A sense of intensity and enthusiasm followed the switch-hitting catcher and first baseman from his days at DeKalb High School, where he graduated in 1997, to professional stops in the Detroit Tigers organization and the with independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters.

He took that energy into coaching at the high school level as a varsity assistant at Fort Wayne Northrop in 2004 (the Bruins won the sectional) and head coach at Fort Wayne South Side from 2005-07.

Meanwhile, Sassanella was entering the financial services world and his family was growing (Jeremy and Kate count six in their blended bunch).

When he moved from northeast Indiana to Indianapolis, he continued in his daytime work (he’s employed by Horizon Planning Group) but maintained his interest in coaching. He led the Mudsox, a Fishers-based travel team, in 2013.

Sassanella joined the Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School program as an assistant, but was not actively pursuing high school head coaching positions when a friend and president of the Indianapolis Adult Baseball League, John DeCosta, persuaded him to throw his hat in the ring when the top spot on the Braves staff came open.

With his plate full away from the diamond, Sassanella added one more duty to his list.

“I have a very, very gracious and understanding wife,” says Sassanella. “She knows this is a passion, I enjoy it and I’m good at it.”

Good enough that he led the Braves to a 25-8 record and a Bishop Chatard Sectional crown in his first season as head coach in 2016

“We weren’t playing any patty cakes,” says Sassanella. “The first week I took over, I said to (Brebeuf athletic director) Ted (Hampton), I want to build the best schedule I can.

“Like it or not, it will help us be ready fro the 3A tournament.”

Not only do the Braves compete in the new Circle City Conference (with Chatard, Guerin Catholic and defending 4A state champion Roncalli), the 2017 slate includes Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern, Zionsville, Indianapolis Cathedral, Andrean and defending 3A state champion Northview — just to name a few.

As a coach, Sassanella takes his own diamond experiences and relates them to teenager ballplayers.

“I want them to have some opportunities and insights I didn’t have,” says Sassanella. “There are things I wish I could go back and tell my 16- or 17-year-old self.

“Playing pro ball was a blessing. I understand what it is to have success and fail at a high level. I was a talented athlete, but I absolutely had to work my butt off to have the success I had.”

Sassanella insists that his players go all out and they know the sport. He and assistants Joe Perkins, Rob Baker and Chris Vale — the latter two played at Purdue — “keep it really simple” while also talking constantly about situations.

“We do drills over and over and over again,” says Sassanella. When something happens in a game, it’s already been covered in practice.

“I hope when baseball people watch us play, they see that,” says Sassanella. “Our kids play hard and fundamentally sound.

“So much of the game is emotional and mental.”

What about the new pitch count rules for 2017?

“With my background, I’m probably overprotective of arms,” says Sassanella. “My top two pitchers threw just over 40 innings apiece (last year).”

The most pitches thrown by a Brebeuf varsity pitcher in 2016 was 103 and that was in the third week of May.

“With the amount of depth we have, I’m never worried about running into pitch count issues,” says Sassanella.

While the private school does not have a traditional feeder system, Sassanella has established an off-season six-week instructional program with open fields for incoming freshmen.

“Brebeuf is going to sell itself and all it is academically and culturally,” says Sassanella. “Everything goes through admissions. Parents want this education first. They’ll seek out Brebeuf and want to be part of our baseball program.”

The coach is also a strong believer in sportsmanship and would like to see umpires do something about cat calling and the like.

“It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about respect for the game,” says Sassanella. “I’d crack down on some of the nonsense.

“Do it with grace and dignity and go home.”

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Jeremy Sassanella is in his second season as head baseball coach at Brebeuf Jesuit in Indianapolis. The Braves won 25 games and a sectional title in 2016.