Lost limbs, lost life put things into perspective at Silver Creek

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is important at Silver Creek High School.

The Joe Decker-coached Dragons work hard to make themselves good at the sport and they have several wins and IHSAA sectional titles (2000, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014) to show for it.

But a 2012 natural disaster and the 2017 passing of a teen athlete from a rival school have help put it all in perspective.

Silver Creek is in the southern Indiana town of Sellersburg —  10 miles from Henryville and 83 miles from Southridge High School in Huntingburg.

Tornadoes in 2012 leveled Joe and Stephanie Decker’s Henryville home and caused Stephanie to lose both of her legs.

With the help of their faith, the community and a desire to help others, the family has moved forward. The Stephanie Decker Foundation was started and she travels all around on prosthetic legs to help bring sports to children without limbs.

“She handles it really well,” says Joe Decker. “She’s a lot tougher than I am. I know that.

“We’re like everybody else at this point. We’re chasing kids around.”

The Deckers make sure youngest son Dominic gets to travel baseball and daughter Reese to travel softball. Nolan is 19 and living in Columbus.

“Five years ago my family learned it’s just a game,” says Decker. “(Baseball) will teach them a lot, but at the end of the day it’s just a baseball game.”

Joe makes sure his high school players count their blessings.

“We tell them ‘be glad you get to do this everyday because a lot kids don’t,” says Decker. “Even for them to live where they live. They live in rural Indiana. Their problems are nothing. Compared to a lot of other kids, they are extremely lucky. They are just really good kids and they care about other people.”

Evidence of that came a few weeks ago. Southridge assistant baseball coach Gene Mattingly’s daughter, Lexi, had experienced cardiac arrest at tennis practice and was hospitalized in Louisville before Silver Creek visited the Raiders for a non-conference baseball game.

Joe knew Gene a little bit. Both have coached for the Ironmen  a Christian-based travel baseball organization. Joe did not know Lexi. Feeling compassion, the Dragons presented Gene with a signed baseball and Dragons T-shirt for his daughter before the Silver Creek-Southridge game.

After being in critical condition, Lexi seemed to be recovering when Joe got a call on gameday against South Central last week. She was being flown back to Louisville.

Around the fifth inning of the contest, he got a call that Lexi Mattingly had passed. He shared the news with his assistant coaches, including Ryan Wheeler, but not his players.

Sophomore Tyler Wheeler noticed a look on his father’s face and asked “Dad, are you alright?”

He told him the sad news just before Tyler’s next turn at bat.

Tyler, who had been struggling at the plate, draws a little “L” in the batter’s box and socks the second pitch for his first high school home run.

“He comes around third base and he’s almost in tears,” says Decker. “It’s pretty amazing.”

That same week practice, Decker shared the baseball and faith story of John Scolinos and “Staying at 17 Inches.” It’s the reason the Dragons wear a 17 on their practice shirts.

Decker, 47, is in his second stint of teaching baseball and life lessons at his alma mater. Beginning at 22, he was head coach for five seasons at Brown County High School (1992-96). The Eagles won the school’s first sectional in any sport in 16 years in 1992. He led the program at Silver Creek 1997-2003, served as head coach for three seasons at Indiana University Southeast in nearby New Albany (2004-06), took two seasons off and came back to the Dragons head coaching post in 2009.

Decker and his assistants want Silver Creek baseball to a be a family for current and former players. It’s not unusual to see alums from the past five years in the dugout during games.

“It’s really important to us that our kids like being here and they like coming back,” says Decker. “They feel it’s there program.”

The Dragons are drilled on the fundamentals and on Mental Toughness Training through Dan Thurston of Long Toss Indiana. After winning four straight Class 3A sectionals, Silver Creek lost 2-1 against host North Harrison in 2015. Decker chalks that up to strong opposing pitching.

The 6-3 loss to Brownstone Central in the 2016 North Harrison Sectional title game — even with three freshmen and two sophomores in the SC lineup did not sit well with Decker.

“Last year it was more like we played not to lose,” says Decker. “From my aspect that was a mental thing. As a coach, I’ll take the blame for it.

“We were not mentally tough from a competitive standpoint. (Most players) never faced adversity … Eyes were wide and they kind of tightened up.”

The idea is to stop the feature of failure.

“We talk about making aggressive mistakes,” says Decker.

Actions in practice — like not getting a bunt down, making the throw to the right base or an unexcused absence — have consequences for the Dragons like extra running.

“We play the process and not the score,” says Decker. “We’re teaching them baseball, but we really focus on work ethic. We tell them the one thing you can control is how hard you work. We’ve tried to keep that workmanlike mentality. That helps them keep a chip on their shoulder a little bit.

“We spend a lot of time just talking about the mental side of the game. It goes back to playing the process. If you can get them to not think about winning and losing and just playing the right way, winning takes care of itself.”

Besides pitching coach Ryan Wheeler, the coaching staff includes Ritchie Ware, Scott Jennings and Brent Falcone. It is Falcone that runs the arm care program for the Dragons.

Silver Creek plays in the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern-Pekin, North Harrison, Salem and Scottsburg). All MSC teams play one another, often on Mondays and Thursdays. Decker would like to see the conference go to a tournament and free up other regular-season dates for strong non-conference competition.

The Dragons finish the season at the Jasper tournament and also play New Albany and Jeffersonville heading toward the IHSAA state tournament series.

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Joe Decker is the head baseball coach at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg. His wife Stephanie lost both legs in the Henryville tornado of 2012. This season, his team experienced the loss of a teenage athlete at rival Southridge.

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While wins keep coming, Jasper’s Gobert keeps it fun

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There used to be a sign near Terry Gobert’s office leading out to Alvin C. Ruxer Field:  “Are you having fun?”

Gobert has coached Jasper High School to five state baseball championships (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006), three runner-up finishes (2010, 2013, 2015) with 11 State Finals appearances since taking over the program in 1988.

The Wildcats also made it in 1986 with Gobert in his first season as an assistant to Ray Howard.

To put it lightly, Jasper has been winners — more than 700 times — with Gobert running the show.

All the while, he reminds himself to enjoy the journey.

“If you followed our program in the spring to the end of the year, you’re going to see kids pushed like they’ve never been pushed,” says Gobert. “But you’re also going to see humor like you’re never seen humor. You want to make it fun for the kids and also for yourself.

“You catch yourself demanding so much, you forget sometimes they’re kids.”

Winning has been such a constant that there is pressure for players to keep the tradition alive. But it’s not something that Gobert or his assistants — Jason Ahlbrand, Phil Kendall, Jeremy Wolf, Jeff Zink and Eric Dall — harp on.

“We push for excellence, we don’t push for W’s,” says Gobert. “But it’s there and the kids feel it. It’s not something I stress.

“With a single-elimination tournament in a sport like baseball, there are so many things that can happen. We play seven innings. You can have 21 hard-hit balls and nothing to show for it. You can have five bloops and win a state title … A good coach understands you can play well and lose.”

In Jasper’s last two state championship game appearances, the Cats came away a 2-1 loss to Norwell in 2013 and 2-1 loss to Andrean in 2015.

How high are the expectations in this baseball-crazed southern Indiana community?

The day after the ’13 setback, Gobert was back in Jasper pumping gas when he was approached by a citizen saying “this group just didn’t have it.”

“We lost two games that year,” says Gobert. “We lost 2-1 in 11 innings to a kid that got drafted (Mount Vernon-Posey right-hander Cody Mobley) and beat that team in the regional and then we lost to a good Andrean team. To say a team didn’t have it, any other community would be embracing that and they’d be legends. You have to fight that. But I’d rather be somewhere that expects to win than to just accept losing.”

Gobert is proud of the sustained excellence at Jasper, where they have taken 37 sectionals, 25 regionals and 13 semistates. The last season under .500 came back in 1972. Since ’88, the Cats have won 20 or more games 25 times with seven campaigns of at least 30 triumphs. The 2016 squad went 28-4.

Jasper won 265 games with Howard at the helm 1977-87 (the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame director still throws daily batting practice and is a radio analyst on WITZ).

Ken Brelage (1977), Keith Leinenbach (1977), Dan Fuhs (1978), Mark Kunkel (1978), Jerry Alles (1979), Brian Persohn (1979), Joe Birge (1980), Mike Ballenger (1981), Mike Burger (1982), Tim Fehribach (1983), Greg Begle (1983), P.J. Wessel (1984), Rick Rasche (1985) and Todd Krapf (1987) were IHSBCA All-Stars for Howard.

Gobert era All-Stars include Ryan Seidl (1991), Andy Noblitt (1992), Scott Rolen (1993), Aaron Rees (1995), Shawn O’Connor (1996), Matt Mauck (1997), Scott Kluesner (1998), Heath Uppencamp (1998), Jimmy Corbin (1999), Neil Giesler (2002), Ben Schmidt (2003), Adam Klatka (2006), Broc Litherland (2006), J.T. Stenftenagel (2007), Andy Binkley (2008), Austin Ahrens (2010), Tory Hall (2011), Dan Giesler (2012), Nick Gobert (2013), Scott Stallwood (2014), Austin Alles (2015), Cal Krueger (2016).

Rolen was Indiana Mr. Baseball and went on the play 17 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds.

Mauck played in the Chicago Cubs system for four seasons.

Wildcats to receive the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award at the State Finals include Phil Rohlehder (1967), Phil Kendall (1996), Matt Mauck (1997), Heath Uppencamp (1998), Sam Linette (2006), Austin Ahrens (2010), Nick Gobert (2013) and Ben Moore (2015).

“I’m more proud that we can maintain that kind of consistency at a public school for four decades,” says Gobert. “Another thing I love about this, the guys who played for Ray and now having their grandkids play for me. Kids I coached at the beginning, I’m coaching their kids now.”

With the advent of travel ball and sports specialization, Gobert has witnessed change over the decades.

A 1979 Greencastle High School graduate, Gobert lettered in football, basketball and baseball for the Tiger Cubs. He still believes in the multi-sport athlete and had many of those on many of his State Finals squads at Jasper.

An active board member with Jasper Youth Baseball, Gobert pleads with parents every year to let their offspring play multiple sports.

“People say it’s a different world now, but I just don’t buy that,” says Gobert. “Kids and parents today think they’ve got to decide at 10, 11 or 12 years of age, Johnny’s going to concentrate on baseball or whatever sport year-round. I don’t think there’s anything good that comes out of it.

“I tell them not to travel to the length they do. I’d rather have a young boy going to bed wishing he could play more baseball than too much baseball. By the time they get to high school it seems they’ve already traveled and they’re tired of it and want something else. Baseball is one of the worst.”

For those who are chasing the few baseball scholarship dollars that are out there, Gobert has this to say:

“I wish they would total up every penny spent, including gas, vehicles, mileage, tires, hotel, food, equipment, entry fees and the damaging effect on their younger sister who is being drug all across the Midwest summer after summer watching a sport they grew to hate because they had to watch their brother play it from the time he was 7 until 14 or whatever.”

The impact that travel baseball has on the high school season is twofold in the IHSBCA Hall of Famer’s mind — players are tired and there’s also the “pool play” mentality coming into the IHSAA’s one-and-done world.

“A good day is they had three hits,” says Gobert. “The Cats may not have won, but they had three hits.

“Every year we have to work harder and harder.”

Growing up in Greencastle, Gobert could name the 10 boys who dressed on every sectional basketball team from 1970-79.

“It used to mean more just to be on your high school team,” says Gobert. “Now so much in society, if you’re not playing by your freshman or sophomore year on varsity, you’re going to move on to something else.”

As a social studies teacher, Gobert presents lessons about civil rights. But it’s the test scores and the grades that parents want to know about more than what their son or daughter is being taught.

“I don’t want to paint a negative picture,” says Gobert.

Jasper has been successful over the decades because of simplicity.

“Get a good pitch to hit and drive it hard,” says Gobert. “(Son Nick who graduated from Jasper in 2013 and played at the University of Dayton) laughs at how simple we keep things.”

While batting averages are distributed to the media, Gobert is more concerned with the Quality At-Bat chart, which accounts for a batter going deep in the count, hitting the ball hard, moving the runner by hitting to the right side or extending an at-bat to eight or nine pitches before striking out.

“I know in my head who’s hitting and who’s not,” says Gobert. “I know in my head who’s making the plays in practice and that’s where the lineup comes from.

“I couldn’t tell you what the kid’s hitting (for average). I can tell you if I want him up there or not in a tough situation.”

Jasper coaches ask players not to give extra outs while on defense or the waste them on offense.

“We don’t want to extend any inning with errors or whatever,” says Gobert. “We don’t want to get doubled up, picked off or run at the wrong time. We want to put the ball in play and put pressure on the (opposing defense).”

Gobert counts it a bonus that all of members of his staff are full-time teachers and all but Forest Park graduate Zink played for the Cats. All are also basketball coaches for boys or girls, leaving much of the preseason work to Gobert, Howard and Kurt Gutgsell. Pitching coach Kendall played six seasons in the minor leagues with Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers affiliates.

“I value their input,” says Gobert of his assistants. “It’s great on the one hand, they understand the program and the expectations.

“But it’s also good to have new blood or outside perspective. That’s why you go to clinics. That’s why you talk to people and you’re willing to change. We don’t just do things because that’s the way we’ve always done it. I also don’t go to the national clinic and throw everything out that we’re doing because some clown says this is the way to hit or this is the way to pitch.”

As for pitching, the new pitch count rule has not caused Jasper to alter its ways.

“We try to develop a good staff and we try to get kids where they can go deep in games,” says Gobert. “There’s no magic number (of pitches). Some kids can pick up a ball and throw all day and other kids need four or five days off.”

Gobert believes that daily throwing — not pitching or throwing breaking balls — is the best way to build arm strength.

Four decades ago, Howard was using a chiropractor to keep his team ready and Jasper now uses former player Dr. Jared Brosmer.

“I put a lot of value in that,” says Gobert. “He can do a test and and tell of the kid’s starting to fatigue.”

Jasper plays in the bi-state Big Eight Conference (with Boonville, Mount Vernon, Princeton, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington in Indiana and Mount Carmel in Illinois) and schedules top-flight competition from all over, many of those team’s coming to Ruxer Field with its 2,900 permanent seats, lights and well-groomed playing surface.

“Our field is one of the most beautiful in the country,” says Gobert. “We take a lot of pride and put a lot of work into our facility.”

TERRYGOBERT

Terry Gobert is in his 30th season as head baseball coach at Jasper High School. He has won five state titles and more than 700 games at the southern Indiana powerhouse.

Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame is growing again

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame outgrew its facility once and it’s happening again.

Housed in the Alvin C. Ruxer Student Center on the Vincennes University-Jasper Campus, the Hall of Fame shines a light on Indiana’s diamond accomplishments and also salutes the contributions of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductees and more.

Ray Howard, Hall of Famer and former head coach at Jasper High School who still helps the Wildcats as a batting practice pitcher and radio analyst on WITZ, is director of the Hall of Fame and curator of plaques and a collection of unique memorabilia.

“We don’t take anything on lone,” says Howard, who coached Jasper to a 265-68 mark from 1977-87 with State Finals appearances in 1981 and 1986. “We don’t have the room to stash stuff. If you donate it, we’ll be happy to display it and it will be there all the time.”

The Hall of Fame has been in Jasper since 1977. After a few years at the Holiday Inn, it found a permanent home at VUJC in 1981.

An 1,111 square-foot expansion — named the Coach Bill Nixon Baseball Wing for the Hall of Famer’s generosity — took the Hall to the current 1,968 square feet of display space in 2007.

“I never thought we would have to build on again after that, but be we don’t have any place to put plaques any more,” says Howard.

With yearly inductions (the Hall of Fame adds a new class each January at the IHBSCA State Clinic in Indianapolis), a display of Louisville Slugger bats saluting IHSAA state champions and other gifts, the Hall is again being squeezed for space.

With Howard, Indianapolis North Central coach Phil McIntyre and Plainfield coach Jeff McKeon as organizers, a campaign to raise $40,000 — half from the Hall of Fame in Jasper and half from the IHSBCA membership — is in progress to expand again.

A 1,333-square foot addition will bring the total to 3,301.

Framed original signatures from Negro Leagues players is a highlight at the Hall of Fame.

As is the history of old Major League Baseball ballparks.

Baseballs from the last game at Bush Stadium and the first game at Victory Field — both in Indianapolis in 1996 — have their place.

The University of Southern Indiana won NCAA Division II national championships in 2010 and 2014. The Screaming Eagles’ accomplishment is commemorated.

In 1977, South Bend Post 50 became the only Indiana team to win an American Legion Baseball national championship. The trophy for that triumph is on display.

Besides many uniforms, gloves and balls, there are several interactive displays, including IHSAA State Finals video clips and the popular “You Make The Call!,” where the visitor gets to be the umpire.

There’s the photos, rosters and ticket stubs from all the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series going back to 1975.

Evansville’s Don Mattingly and Jasper’s Scott Rolen are saluted with items from their MLB careers taking corner infield spots in the museum.

Second base is occupied by Indiana Hall of Famers also inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., with photos of the plaques of Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, Max Carey, Oscar Charleston, Ford Frick, Billy Herman, Chuck Klein, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Sam Rice, Edd Roush, Amos Rusie, Sam Thompson surrounding a replica of a Chicago Cubs jersey like the one Brown wore back in the early 1900’s.

Not far from that is a replica of a 48-ounce bat swung in games by Roush. For comparison, it hangs next to to a 32-ouncer from Lafayette’s Todd Dunwoody, a former big leaguer and regular at the annual Hall of Fame golf tournament in Jasper.

Roush is also remembered with a donated Cracker Jack collector card.

There’s a card display from the collection of former Terre Haute Huts president and general manager Paul Frisz.

On the unique side, there’s a salute to the baseball-themed 2002 Chevy Impala owned by Greenwood’s Kyle Shaffer.

League Stadium in Huntingburg, where scenes from “A League Of Their Own” was filmed, is nine miles south of the museum where there is a collage of All-American Girls Professional Baseball League players.

An orginal lineup card from the 1940 MLB All-Star Game has a place of honor. New Albany’s Herman started at second base for the National League, 4-0 winners at St. Louis.

Caps from many Indiana high schools are suspended from the ceiling.

There’s a brick from old Comiskey Park in Chicago.

Once again, Ferdinand’s Universal Design Associates and Jasper’s Krempp Construction are leading the project.

The Hall of Fame is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday during the VUJC school year from mid-August to early May and open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily from May 10 to Aug. 19. Cost is $4 for ages 13-and-over, $3 for fans 5-12 and $2 for senior enthusiasts 60-and-over. Visitors ages 4-and-under are admitted free.

INBBHOF1

A display for the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. The Hall of Fame has been located in the southern Indiana town for 40 years and housed at Vincennes University Jasper Campus since 1981. The facility will be expanded for the second time since 2007.

INBBHOF3

Universal Design Associates rendering of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame expansion project.

INBBHOF2

Another Universal Design Associates drawing of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame expansion project.

Froedge makes success an expectation at Crawfordsville

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the heart of Montgomery County is a high school baseball program that’s hard to beat.

John Froedge has been coach at Crawfordsville since age 23 in 1982. His pitching coach and brother-in-law Rhett Welliever is in his 32nd year with the Athenians.

“We have something kind of unique here for a small community,” says Froedge. “Kids who come into the baseball program expect success so they work hard.

“Any of the programs that have had long-standing success have a formula. This is how we do Crawfordsville baseball and these are the expectations.”

The cornerstones of the Athenian way have always been structure, discipline and a love of baseball. With continued success came tradition and expectation.

In the past 26 seasons, Crawfordsville has won 14 IHSAA sectionals, five regionals, two semesters and two Class 3A state championships as well as 20 Sagamore Conference titles.

The Athenians raised the state trophy by besting Mishawaka Marian twice — 5-1 in 2008 and 8-3 in 2011.

C-ville has earned at least 20 victories in 21 of those 26 campaigns. The average record during the span is 24-8.

The 2016 Athenians went 25-5 and won the conference title, but not the sectional. For the first time since 2003-05, Crawfordsville has gone three straight seasons minus a sectional crown.

“We’ve got a bunch of really hungry seniors,” says Froedge of the 2017 squad. “We’ve virtually got the entire team back.”

While proud of the tradition, Froedge deflects from the stress of keeping it going.

“They don’t want to be the first group to go through here and not win something big,” says Froedge. “I tell them ‘Just play the game. There is no pressure. You’re not playing for the legacy. You’re not playing for the past. This is your team.’

“I want them to experience that success at the end of the year. But they’re not going to get it if they’re all uptight about it.”

Froedge, a 1976 Southmont High School graduate, is bearing down on 750 career victories. He is in select company among active Indiana high school coaches. Andrean’s Dave Pishkur is in the 900-win club. Twin Lakes’ Jake Burton has surpassed 800 while Froedge, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Indianapolis Scecina’s Dave Gandolph and Jasper’s Terry Gobert have all surpassed 700. All six are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Froedge’s induction coming 2010.

Early in Froedge’s career, he saw success happening at places like Jasper and LaPorte and said why not Crawfordsville, too? He made it a point to take to LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber when attending the IHSBCA State Clinic each winter.

“When you’re trying to build your program, you find out who try to talk to the best,” says Froedge, who also learned about the game while playing for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.

All but one of Crawfordsville’s IHSBCA North/South All-Star selections — Damon Brown (1978) — have come with Froedge in charge. The others are Matt McCarty (1994), Brett Motz (1995), Adrian Norris (2002), Brandon Moore (2004), Ross Wheeler (2006), Andrew Swart (2008), Brett McKinney (2009), Steven Rice (2010), Cory Rice (2011), Caleb Rasmussen (2012) and Jordan Jackson (2013).

Many Athenians have gone on to play college baseball, but not many at the NCAA Division I level. A couple of exceptions are left-handed pitchers Cameron Hobson and Steven Rice.

When Crawfordsville won the 3A state crown in 2008, Hobson (win) and Rice (save) handled pitching duties in topping Marian.

Hobson went on to pitch for the University Dayton. His professional career took him as far as Triple-A. Rice was a part of Vanderbilt University’s 2014 College World Series champions.

“It sounds cliche, but we’re a team,” says Froedge. “Year in and year out, we’re not the most athletic, the most gifted. We develop strong pitching — and it’s no different this year — but it’s everybody pulling together and working for a common cause.

“We have kids that are super loyal to the program. We have had kids do well by working hard together.”

Kids coming up through feeder programs like Crawfordsville Youth Baseball (CYB-Crawfordsville Youth Baseball on Facebook) and Crawfordsville Middle School dream of one day playing for the Athenian varsity.

There’s also a real family feel. John’s wife Debbie is always around. Son Brandon Froedge, who played for C-ville in the 1990’s, left the baseball staff last year to help assistant his sister Britney Carpenter in her role as Crawfordsville’s head softball coach.

John has been at it long enough that he can now say he has coached several fathers and sons in the royal blue and yellow gold.

Welliever, whom John calls a “baseball junkie” has been pitching daily batting practice for decades.

“One day we counted and he threw 750 pitches,” says Froedge. “He’ll throw to the whole roster multiple times and come back the next day and do it again.”

Tony Bean, Tommy Coy, Daryl Hobson and Connor Smith are also trusted assistants for the Athenians. Justin Dugger is in his 20th season of doing multiple jobs for the team. Bob Taylor has been shooting video of every game for the past 25 years or so.

The current CHS school building opened in 1993-94 and Athenians moved from Miligan Park/Baldwin Field (the program’s home field when it won sectional trophies in 1967, 1970, 1971 and 1974) to the on-campus facility in 1995.

“We’ve got a really beautiful field and the kids do all the work,” says Froedge.

In the Sagamore Conference, Crawfordsville meets Danville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone. Many non-conference games are against bigger schools and the Athenians go to Tennessee at the beginning of the season seeking the best competition available. The final of the C-ville tournament April 15 pitted 3A No. 1 Crawfordsville against 4A No. 1 Carmel (won 13-5 by the visitors).

JOHNFROEDGE

John Froedge is in his 36th season as head baseball coach at Crawfordsville High School. The Indiana Hugh School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer is bearing down on his 750th career victory. His Athenians won Class 3A state titles in 2008 and 2011.

Allen’s first DePauw squad built on grit, resiliency, selflessness

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Blake Allen took little time getting the culture established in his first year as head baseball coach at DePauw University.

After returning to the Greencastle campus and taking the position in August 2016, the former DU player and assistant coach did plenty of talent evaluation while tasking his captains and seniors with establishing the program’s core values.

Three cue words are used daily by the 2017 Tigers: Grit, Resiliency, Selflessness.

“We play the game the right way,” says Allen is describing the Grit. “We play hard. We get down the line. We run on and off the field. We feel it’s worth the price of admission for a family to come watch us play. A dad’s going to be able to sit in the stands with his son and say ‘that’s how you do it.’

“Resiliency is the ability to come back. We’ve done that a lot this year. We did it twice against (North Coast Athletic Conference foe) Denison.

“Selflessness is always doing something for someone else, whether it’s a teammate, a parent, a friend, a teacher, a professor. We’re not going to wait for someone to take the garbage out of our dugout. We’re going to do it ourselves. We’re not going to make another human being do that stuff.”

Having been a baseball and football player for two seasons at DePauw for two years before transferring and later serving on the Tigers staff, Allen knows that the idea at the NCAA Division III-affiliated institution is to strike a balance in campus life. DePauw offers the opportunity to be pushed in academics and athletics while also experiencing fraternities and other organizations.

With the high academic standards of the schools, grades and test scores are very important in the recruiting process.

“We are able to find plenty of good players that are really good academic kids,” says Allen.

By NCAA D-III rules, the team has four weeks of practice in the fall (16 days total) and 15 more weeks with a 40-game schedule in the spring.

There is a limited amount of contact between Allen, assistant coaches Jordan Niespodziany and Matt Pustay to interact between fall and spring.

Allen, who has also had assistant coaching stints at NCAA Division I Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky and D-III Franklin College, would like to see a change to D-III contact rules.

“Not having a chance to see your guys every single day (like D-I coaches can), it’s been a tough transition,” says Allen. “You can’t be with them everyday talking about the swing or pitching mechanics.”

It also limits time to make personal connections. And that’s very important to Allen, who watched Vandy head coach Tim Corbin emphasize developing the person first.

“The relationships and how you communicate with your players is huge,” says Allen. “It’s teaching them more than just the game of baseball. As you become a parent, as you get older, you realize those are the most important things.”

Allen wants his Tigers to hustle at DU’s Walker Field and other diamonds, but also be respectful, look people in the eye and carry on a conversation.

“If you teach them how to be a good person and mold that, they’re going to be good players,” says Allen. “They’re going to do what you ask.

“It all comes full circle. Those are the same things that my dad taught me when I was a good player in Little League.

Sometimes you get lost in the X’s and O’s and mechanics of the game a little too much and you lose focus on the most important things. At the end of the day, it’s energy, attitude and effort. And it always will be.”

For the most part, NCAC games are played in Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders.

“I don’t like it,” says Allen. “You never have a chance to replicate it during the fall or early spring. You don’t have a winner coming out of a (four-game) series, which I don’t like.

“Because of the pitching depth, those Game 4 scores are rough (DePauw beat Wittenberg 16-4 and lost 14-12 to Denison).”

With at least 36 innings of baseball in 48 hours, it’s the survival of the fittest and the time the Tigers spent at the track and in the weight room during the fall and winter come into play in the spring.

“I’ve never looked at baseball as being a grind,” says Allen. “But with four 9-inning games, it’s a mental and physical grind.

“That’s why rest and giving these guys a break is crucial.”

After a recent grueling series and with a tall academic load starting at his players, Allen allowed his players to take a deep breath and re-charge.

“I never thought in a million years I’d give a team three days off in a row,” says Allen. “But they needed it. They appreciate that. I just want them to be fresh coming down the stretch.”

Besides DePauw, the NCAC includes Allegheny (Leadville, Pa.), Denison (Granville, Ohio), DePauw (Greencastle), Hiram (Hiram, Ohio), Kenyon (Gambier, Ohio), Oberlin (Oberlin, Ohio), Ohio Wesleyan (Delaware, Ohio), Wabash (Crawfordsville), Wittenberg (Springfield, Ohio) and Wooster (Wooster, Ohio). Plans call for the league to switch to a single round robin of doubleheaders between all teams. The top two teams from each division converge in mid-May in Chillicothe, Ohio, for the NCAC tournament.

DEPAUWTIGERS

BLAKEALLEN

Blake Allen, a former player and assistant coach at DePauw University, is in his first season as Tigers head baseball coach.

Wabash College alum Martin returns to ‘passionate place’ as head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fourteen years ago, Jake Martin chased fly balls in the Mud Hollow outfield.

Now he’s back on the Wabash College campus as head baseball coach.

Martin, who earned letters in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003, leads the Little Giants on the diamond at Goodrich Ballpark.

“I enjoyed my time here as a player,” says Martin. “This is a passionate place. There’s great support for athletics and success across the board.

“I’m excited to come back. To play a part in your alma mater’s tradition and make your own mark on it is a pretty special experience.”

On the wall at Goodrich (christened in 2011) it reads “Wabash Always Fights.”

It’s an athletic motto. But it goes farther than that.

“It means you’re in a classroom working hard for good grades, working hard to get a good job,” says Martin. “(You’re) able to handle adversity and have confidence that you’re gong to be successful and your experience here has prepared you to do so.”

At an NCAA Division III school with high academic standards, getting athletes to come to Wabash involves the understanding that grade-point average and batting average both have worth. But academics is higher in the pecking order.

“Everybody that plays college baseball has to have a baseline of talent,” says Martin. “We start our recruiting with the classroom. This is a serious place where you’re here to get a great education and to play athletics at a high level.

“We need to find guys who are going to be able to handle the academic rigor and manage their time so they’re able to take advantage of the facilities that we have and the great opportunity to become the best baseball player they can be.”

Wabash coaches — Martin’s assistant are Andy Weeks (Wabash Class of 2009), Cesar Barrientos and John Walker — attend showcases or tournaments and the conversation with potential recruits involves grades, test scores and class rank. The admission office will weed out the ones who would struggle in an environment where they will be pushed both as a student and an athlete.

“We have to make sure that are being set up to be successful here,” says Martin. “They need to be committed to the classroom first. Right behind that needs to be a commitment to playing college baseball at a high level.”

“We want guys that need to have both as part of their experience. They aren’t willing to sacrifice the academic side for a great baseball experience.”

NCAA Division III does not redshirt athletes, so Wabash players typically finish their undergraduate degrees in four years then head off the graduate school or the workforce.

On the field, Wabash competes in the North Coast Athletic Conference. Other members include Allegheny (Leadville, Pa.), Denison (Granville, Ohio), DePauw (Greencastle), Hiram (Hiram, Ohio), Kenyon (Gambier, Ohio), Oberlin (Oberlin, Ohio), Ohio Wesleyan (Delaware, Ohio), Wittenberg (Springfield, Ohio) and Wooster (Wooster, Ohio).

Leading up the conference tournament where the top two teams from each division converge in mid-May in Chillicothe, Ohio, the NCAC tends to play doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday (four 9-inning games) which calls for plenty of pitching depth and also does not interfere with academic schedules.

In a 40-game schedule this, Martin says there might be three times where the Little Giants will be missing class time.

“We start (games) as late as possible,” says Martin. There are times when Wabash does not take batting practice on the field so players can still attend a 1 p.m. class and still be ready for a 4 p.m. home game.

Mud Hollow was a multipurpose field with a temporary fence and Goodrich rivals even some of the parks used by smaller NCAA Division I schools.

“It’s a great place to come to work each day,” says Martin. “Our guys know and understand how good they have it. We’re very grateful for the alums that made it happen and the support staff that takes care of it.”

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star Series was played at Goodrich in 2011.

Martin, a Rushville High School graduate, received his Wabash degree in 2003 and went to DePauw where he served as a graduate assistant, volunteer coach, associate head coach and, finally, seven seasons as head coach (he was NCAC Coach of the Year in 2012 and led the NCAC tournament champions in 2014). He was promoted to associate head coach when head baseball coach Matt Walker also became the Tigers head football coach.

While working at DePauw, Martin picked up his master’s degree at Indiana State University.

“I loved my time at DePauw,” says Martin. “I promised myself there were a couple of jobs I would look at if they were to open and this was one. I was blessed to get an interview over the summer and eventually get hired (last) July (to follow Cory Stevens after his 10-year tenure as head coach at Wabash).

“(Wabash vs. DePauw is) a fun rivalry across all sports. It’s not just the Monon Bell game (for football).”

Martin likes the D-III model and the balance between academics and athletics, but he would like to see an increase in the amount of development time coaches can spend with players from the fall to the spring. Right now, counting back from the start of the conference tournament schools get 19 weeks and that includes a few weeks in the fall plus the preseason and regular season.

Players could benefit with individual or small group training sessions with coaches. It would also make possible some valuable conversations.

“We’re missing out on the opportunity to mentor and keep in contact with players in that gap time,” says Martin. “We’re losing out on the chance to check in with them consistently. Contact and relationships are what makes all small colleges special.”

JAKEMARTIN1

Jake Martin, a 2003 Wabash College graduate, in his first season as Little Giants head baseball coach.

Schmack giving back to baseball at Valpo U.

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Schmack enjoyed a long career as a baseball player.

He excelled at Rolling Meadows (Ill.) High School and Northern Illinois University. A right-hander pitcher, he persevered for years in the minors and made 11 appearances for the 2003 Detroit Tigers (1-0, 3.46 earned run average).

When his playing days were over, he wanted to give back to the game. He is doing that in his 11th season of coaching at NCAA Division I Valparaiso University (the first seven as pitching coach and the past four as head coach).

Of all the baseball experiences Schmack has enjoyed in his 43 years, he cherishes most his college days and he feels most comfortable in that setting.

“I love this age group,” says Schmack. “For the most point, guys want to be here. Sometimes in high school, they play because they’re the best athlete or because their parents make them or because it’s a small school.

“They’re impressionable and many are away from home for the first time. We get to teach life lessons … (College baseball is) a huge commitment and it’s not for everybody.”

Schmack has made effort, conviction and unity the foundation of the Crusaders program.

“For us, it starts with hard work,” says Schmack, who regularly has VU players doing early-morning running. “Hard work. That’s how you succeed at life in general. We also have confidence, which leads to success.

“We want to outsmart, outwork and outplay (opponents).”

NCAA rules limit the hours players can practice or compete, depending on the time of the school year. But Schmack wants maximum effort when they are doing baseball activities.

There are 32 players on the 2017 roster and Schmack wants them all working together.

“We do a lot of team things here,” says Schmack. “Being good teammates is one of the first things we stress.”

Among other things, being a good teammate means checking the negativity at the locker room door.

As a reminder, there’s a sign in the clubhouse next to Emory G. Bauer Field: No Energy Vampires Allowed.

“Ultimately, we want guys to be positive,” says Schmack. “We want to be positive toward them. With sports, there’s failure involved.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds. A kid has three balls roll through his legs and it’s hard to be positive about that. We try to say ‘keep your head up.’ We’re all fragile and we all make mistakes.”

Schmack knows negativity can spread quickly throughout a team.

“I’ve been on many, many teams in my life,” says Schmack. “You have to eradicate it. You have to get rid of it, even if it’s a good player. You have to have guys who are positive.”

With such a large roster, not every player is going to be a regular. Bench players must remain upbeat and ready.

“They have to be good teammates because they can take a team down,” says Schmack. “We’ve had situations where we have a walk-on pitching or batting in the biggest game of the year. The guys that prepare themselves for a possible situation are the ones that are going to do well.”

Schmack notes that readiness got Mike Montgomery his first career save while helping the Chicago Cubs win Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

“He probably never thought that would happen,” says Schmack.  “But he stayed ready and the opportunity came because of the situation. That’s  a great example that you always have to be ready.”

When recruiting athletes to the private school in northwest Indiana, the staff looks wherever there’s talent and there are many Californians on the current roster.

Recent successes (Valpo won Horizon League titles in 2012 and 2013 and won a school-record 25 games in 2014) have attracted more local players.

But no matter where they come from, Schmack said the recruiting process is about the VU staff and high school and summer coaches shooting straight with one another.

“We’ll ask is he a competitor? Is he a hard worker?,” says Schmack. “You get, ‘He’s the first one there and the last one to leave.’

“I don’t really know you. Are you just trying to help that kid out or is he really one of those kids? Every coach wants their players to go on to play college baseball. But sometimes maybe they aren’t as honest as they should be.

“Maybe he’s the last one there and the first one to leave. Is he going to say that about the kid? He doesn’t want to bury him.”

Schmack, whose assistants include Ben Wolgamot, Nic Mishler, Kory Winter and Ryan Fritze, wants to get players that are a good fit and it’s hard for someone who has never seen Valpo play and does not know the makeup of the roster to know that.

The same dynamic is in place when pro scouts come to Schmack to ask about his players.

“If I tell them he’s throwing 95 mph and he’s a great kid and they come out to watch him and he’s throwing 87 and has bad body language, they’re not going to come around anymore because we’re overselling them,” says Schmack. “It’s just about being honest with people and forming relationships and knowing who you can trust.”

What about body language?

“It shows a lot about a kid if he doesn’t get rattled very easily,” says Schmack. “He understands baseball is a game of failure. How does he handle it? Does he throw his palms up?

“I’m a big ‘palms up’ guy. It shows blame to me. I always talk about being on an even keel. Baseball is a very humbling sport. You play a lot of games. You can hit three home runs one game and strike out four times the next game. If you’re always the guy who’s happy when you’re doing well and you’re throwing things when you’re bad, guys don’t like to hang around you.

“I want to walk up to a game and not know if the kid is throwing a shutout or he’s given up 10 runs. I won’t be able to tell by his body language.”

Schmack learned not to make a situation bigger while playing for Joe “Spanky” McFarland at NIU, mechanics, reading swing and what to throw in certain situations from first pro pitching coach, Sean Snedeker, and countless little nuggets from all the other coaches and managers to cross his path.

He’s also learned that players must learn to coach themselves.

“We go one-on-one with a player and see what makes him tick,” says Schmack. “Each guy has his own tweak. One guy might lunge. Another might stay back too much. Whatever it is, I have to be able to identify (the issue) and pass it on. Hopefully, he’ll eventually be able to identify it on his own.

“At some point you have to be your own coach and make the adjustment. It’s a game of adjustments. If you can’t make them, you’re out of it. If you can, you have a chance.”

BRIANSCHMACK

Brian Schmack is in his fourth season as head baseball coach at Valparaiso University after seven seasons as the Crusaders pitching coach.