Plymouth’s Wolfe looks for players who are competitive, confident, comfortable

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Wolfe was fiery as a player. He got hot at the beginning of his coaching career.

The flame still flickers to the surface on occasion.

But the Plymouth High School head baseball coach has learned to control the flames a bit with time and experience.

Wolfe graduated from Hamilton High School in northeast Indiana in 2001. He was a four-year varsity player for the Marines, which won the IHSAA Class 1A Bethany Christian Sectional in 2000. He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-star as senior.

Jim Sanxter was the coach.

A pitcher, Wolfe went on to Manchester College (now Manchester University) and played three seasons for Rick Espeset. The Spartans placed seventh in the 2004 NCAA Division III World Series.

“They had two totally different styles of coaching and both were effective,” says Wolfe of Sanxter and Espeset. “(Sanxter) had a huge influence on me. He was tough. He definitely didn’t go for excuses. He would challenge you and push you and he was very sincere. The more I coach, the more I understand some of the things he did.”

Wolfe came to see in Sanxter a passion and purpose for coaching. Not a teacher, the it was a selflessness that drove the man who coached 30 years, including 18 with Hamilton baseball and passed away in 2014.

“It was how he said things, when he said things and how he reacted to things,” says Wolfe. “I’m humbled to realize I learned from somebody like that.”

A calm demeanor is what Wolfe saw when he observed Espeset, who has led the Manchester program since the 1997 season.

“He had a way of staying even-keeled,” says Wolfe. “I never saw Coach Espeset really get upset.

“You knew he meant business, but he didn’t say it in a brash way. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”

Espeset helped his players understand the intricacies of the game and also gave them freedom.

“He let us learn from failure,” says Wolfe. “That’s what I try to do here. We’re not going to win every ball game.”

Wolfe’s post-game remarks after a Pilgrims loss is very minimal. He doesn’t want to harp on the negative.

“We want to get the kids to understand that baseball is much bigger than wins and losses,” says Wolfe, whose first season at Plymouth was 2013 (he was an assistant to Brian Hooker at Rochester High School in 2012 and head coach at West Central High School 2006-11). “We want competitors.”

Even Pilgrims practices — which generally include all 35 to 40 players in the program — have a competitive component. Players must earn a chance to take batting practice on Bill Nixon Field.

“It’s been phenomenal,” says Wolfe, who began combining squads for practice in 2015. “It brings a sense of unity. Our whole purpose is the same — to develop great young men through the game of baseball.”

Practices are broken into stations and one is devoted to work on routines. That’s how important it is to the Pilgrims.

Taking the teaches of mental conditioning and sports psychology expert Brian Cain, Wolfe and his assistant coaches (Brent Corbett, Kevin Garrity, Brian Schuler and Mitch Bowers) tell the players to “get back to green.”

There are green dots on the bats — a visual device that helps them relax and focus.

“We talk about breathing a lot and keeping our heart rate down,” says Wolfe. “We’re constantly talking about confidence.

“We want them to know their routine because a routine breeds confidence because it makes you comfortable.”

While his assistants hone in on hitting, pitching and fielding skills, Wolfe sees his role to develop his players’ mental sides.

“It’s an aspect of the game that’s left out,” says Wolfe. “We take time out of our day and do that.”

“It’s taken awhile for our kids to understand it’s a part of baseball. They’re high school kids. They don’t know how to handle failure. Are we perfect at it? No way.”

Wolfe and his staff are not trying to cram every player into the same mold.

“We are not cookie cutter,” says Wolfe. “We don’t have every kid hit the same or pitch the same. It’s about learning who you are as a player and what works for you.

“We’re trying to get the kids to take ownership.”

Like many coaches, Wolfe has taken concepts he has learned at clinics and American Baseball Coaches Association conventions and adopted them to the needs of his program.

Justin Dehmer has won multiple state titles in Iowa and has shared his knowledge through his line of 1 Pitch Warrior materials. Plymouth tracks B.A.S.E.2 (Big Inning, Answer Back, Score First, Extend the Lead, Score with 2 Outs, Quality At-Bat System). Wolfe knows that doing three of the five things on the chart often leads to victory.

The Pilgrims are looking for a K.O. — knocking the starting pitcher out by the fourth inning.

Other incentives are the Hit Stick (one each for varsity and junior varsity) and MVP jersey, which players can earn from game to game following a victory. Get the jersey the most times during the season — as voted on by the team — and that player is the season MVP.

“We’ve got to win to get anything,” says Wofle. “There’s nothing if we lose.”

Wolfe and his staff have crunched the numbers and witness enough success to be believers in their methods.

“This stuff does work,” says Wolfe.

Plymouth plays a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference (which also includes Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Warsaw and Wawasee) with games played Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

NorthWood went 14-0 in 2017, taking a pair of 1-0 wins against the Pilgrims. The game at Plymouth pitted NWHS senior Drake Gongwer against PHS sophomore Cam Dennie and was a classic.

“That’s one of the best high school baseball games I’ve ever seen,” says Wofle. “(The NLC) is very competitive. I like the format. In my five years, I have not seem the same pitcher start both games very often.”

Dennie is already verbally committed to Arizona State University, something he did before the 2017 season after showing well in Prep Baseball Report underclassmen games.

Wolfe sees it as his responsibility to engage in the recruiting process.

“I try to make as many connections as I can with college coaches around the area,” says Wolfe. “But I’m going to be honest with (players, parents and college coaches).

“I teach kids there’s a lot of levels of college baseball. You’ve got to show initiative and work hard in the class room also.”

Indiana alone has 38 programs — nine in NCAA Division I, three in NCAA Division II, nine in NCAA Division III, 14 in NAIA and three in junior college.

Wolfe, who also teaches social studies at PHS, lets his players and coaches know what is being sought by college coaches. He wants them to closely assess their situation and pay attention to the intangibles. On-base percentage and pitching velocity are easy to gauge.

But can they handle the grind of college baseball?

What kind if student are they?

What kind of teammate are they?

“These are the kinds of things we want here,” says Wolfe. “I have some of the longest parent meetings of all-time. But I try to be upfront.

“I don’t want to discourage kids from having those aspirations. I want them to reach their own potential and not compare themselves to other kids. You are who you are. It goes back to taking ownership of what you can do to reach that potential.”

Money has been raised to upgrade the playing surface at Bill Nixon Field, a facility named for the IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach. Wolfe says that project is to go forward after the 2018 season.

Tyler Wolfe — Ryan’s brother — really excelled at D-III Manchester and holds school pitching records for career wins, strikeouts, innings pitched and complete games.

Ryan and wife Tara Wolfe have two boys — fifth grader Preston and fourth grader Parker.

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Ryan Wolfe, a graduate of Hamilton High School and Manchester University, is entering his sixth season as head baseball coach at Plymouth High School.

 

Pierce puts long-term plan in place for D-I Fort Wayne Mastodons

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Going from a squad full of veterans and experiencing NCAA Division I baseball success in 2016, the Mastodons of Fort Wayne had much less college experience and suffered growing pains in 2017.

With a new focus, Fort Wayne is looking to get things turned around in 2018 under the guidance of 10th-year head coach Bobby Pierce.

“We wore it last year,” says Pierce, who saw the Mastodons go 9-43 after losing 14 impact players — senior shortstop Greg Kaiser, senior outfielder Brandon Soat and and drafted sophomore pitcher Evan Miller among them — from a 33-26 campaign in ’16 that included a second straight trip to the Summit League tournament finals. “(Junior college) guys made the (2016) team as good as it could be. Freshmen (in 2017) need to learned how to play here and do damage on the Division I level.

“But we like to think over the next three or four years, that was worth it. Strategically, it’s the right move to get where we want to get. We have to think more long-term. Up until this time, we were using a steady mix of high school and junior college guys and it was holding us back a little bit.”

Fort Wayne just wrapped annual fall workouts with the Blue-Black intrasquad series with teams captained by sophomore infielder Travis Upp and junior pitcher Damian Helm on one side and junior infielder Brandon Yoho and senior pitcher Brandon Phelps on the other.

“We got after it somewhere in the middle of September,” says Pierce. “We’ve been grinding it out until this (past) weekend.”

Pierce, assistants Grant Birely and Connor Lawhead and the Dons will continue work in preparation for the 2018 campaign.

As he goes forward, Pierce has the longest tenure as head coach in program history. Previous coach Billy Gernon (now at Western Michigan University) was also in charge for nine seasons.

Pierce, who turned 39 on Oct. 17, came to Fort Wayne with lessons learned as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

A Las Vegas native, Pierce played for Rodger Fairless at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nev. Fairless coached 12 state championship teams at three Nevada schools. He helped develop Greg Maddux before going to Green Valley and turning that school into a diamond powerhouse. With the Gators, he produced a state champion in the program’s third season. Two Green Valley players — Chad Hermansen and Dave Krynzel — went on to the big leagues.

Pierce, a middle infielder, played at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Central Arizona College and New Mexico State University.

Clint Myers was Pierce’s head coach at Central Arizona. National Fastpitch Coaches’ Association Hall of Famer Myers won more than 1,000 games as a baseball and softball coach with a number of national titles to his credit.

At New Mexico State, Pierce played for National College Baseball Hall of Famer Gary Ward and his son, Rocky Ward.

“I’m very fortunate to come from a very good pedigree of coaches,” says Pierce. “(Fairless) was super disciplinarian and fundamental coach and that was a great start for me. I got indoctrinated in it during my high school career. (Myers) taught me a team management perspective.”

Through structured live play drills in practice, Pierce is able to grow a player’s intelligence in playing the game — something he gained from Myers.

Pierce considers Gary Ward one of the best offensive-minded coaches of all-time and styles his Fort Wayne offense based in the Hall of Famer’s philosophy.

After he was done playing (he developed a labrum injury at New Mexico State), Pierce had planned to become an accountant in Albuquerque.

But fate intervened — hiring was curtailed after Sept. 11, 2001 and he was asked to go back to college for more schooling.

Pierce instead pursued coaching, first serving as an assistant at Central Arizona then the University of Arkansas-Little Rock (where he pulled his first tarp) before becoming head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver for two seasons before becoming head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne for the 2009 season.

“The early years were hard. I was cutting my teeth,” says Pierce. “But you have to cut your teeth and learn your craft somehow.”

Pierce explains why he has stayed longer in the position than anyone else.

“It speaks to the people I work with and the community,” says Pierce. “The city of Fort Wayne is great. My family (Bobby and Lizette Pierce have two children — Bobby Jr., and Daycee) has grown roots and really love it here.

“I’ve been very fortunate to coach some student-athletes and been around great people. I love this job and I love baseball.”

Fort Wayne pulls many players from northern Indiana and the Indianapolis area, but is able to draw from outside of the state with the school’s policy of out-of-state students paying 150 percent of what in-staters pay.

“Before, we couldn’t afford out-of-state players,” says Pierce. “Their dollar goes further now. Indiana residents are still cheaper on our books. We target Indiana kids. We still like home cooking. We try to turn rocks up here.”

NCAA Division I allows 11.7 scholarships for baseball. Pierce says that of the 35 players on the roster, 27 of them can be on scholarship and those are broken up based on a number of factors, including performance and need.

“There is no such thing as a full-ride,” says Pierce.

Like most programs, most money goes to pitchers and then to the interior of the defense (catcher, shortstop, center field).

“We think we can do a good job of developing hitters,” says Pierce. “We spend the majority of our money in pitching.”

Balance must also be considered.

“Like pro baseball, if you overspend in one area, you are going to be light in another area,” says Pierce. “It becomes a numbers game.”

Pierce is proud to say that the Mastodons have performed well in the classroom with three straight years of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale) as a team grade-point average. All players are encouraged to graduate in four years and take 15 hours in both the fall and spring semesters.

To help them meet their scholarly goals, schedules are made to limit the amount of missed class time. There is an academic advisor, study halls and the resources of the Mastodon Academic Performance Center.

“I’ve proctored exams,” says Pierce. “Professors on our campus are willing to work with us. We’ve got it figured out.”

Being in the Summit League with Denver, North Dakota, North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota, South Dakota State and Western Illinois, there is plenty of travel.

But it’s not like the first few years of NCAA Division I status as an independent. That’s when Fort Wayne was on the road for all but a handful of its 56 regular-season games away from Mastodon Field. Having no conference ties meant a berth in the NCAA tournament was virtually impossible.

One former Don player is seeing the world while still playing the game. Caleb Fenimore, a senior catcher on the 2014 team, was recently named the top hitter in the North in the German Professional League. The Rushville Consolidated High School graduate has played in Germany in the summer and Australia in the winter.

BOBBYPIERCE

Bobby Pierce is entering his 10th season at head coach of Fort Wayne Mastodons baseball in 2018. The NCAA Division I program is a member of the Summit League. (Fort Wayne Mastodons Photo)

 

 

U. of Evansville’s Carroll combines ‘old’ and ‘new’ schools in role as head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

College baseball is about more that what goes on between the lines.

Wes Carroll has come to see that in his time as head coach at his alma mater — the University of Evansville.

Self-described as a combination of “old school” and “new school,” Carroll has taken approaches that he was taught when he was a Purple Aces player and concepts he has learned on the job and applies them as he enters his 10th season as the man in charge of the program.

Carroll, who was born in Evansville and graduated from Castle High School, played at UE for Jim Brownlee.

“He was as hard-nosed as you can get,” says Carroll. “He taught us how to be a man and handle our failures.”

It’s inevitable that players will face difficulty — on the diamond or off — and they need to know how to cope. But it’s not always easy.

“Kids fail so much and struggle to overcome,” says Carroll. “I build a relationship with them so that they can feel comfortable with discussing with anything and everything that comes into their life.

“I’m learning from all of my mistakes. I’m 38 years old, but I feel like I’ve been through a lot. The biggest thing is listening.

Being an “elite communicator” is key.

“I want to be there to help get through whatever situation they are going through,” says Carroll. “It is very rewarding. I thought (coaching) was all about wins and losses. When I started, I led the country in pep talks and sac bunts and was a train wreck. It’s about developing great young men. I’ve definitely shifted my focus on what this game is all about.”

Carroll played at Evansville from 1998-2001 and was selected in the 37th round of the 2001 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Wes played mostly second base, shortstop and third base in the Phillies and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals systems through 2005, making it to Triple-A the last two seasons.

When his pro career ended, the 2001 UE graduate planned to be a stock broker but the opportunity to coach presented it and he jumped at the chance. He served two seasons as a UE assistant to David Seifert before taking over as head coach for the 2009 season.

“I was fortunate to jump on to a coaching staff in my hometown,” says Carroll. “I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be in the right place at the right time.

“You could look at it as luck or opportunity matched up with preparation that has put me in this position.”

Observing his older brother (Jamey Carroll was a Purple Ace 1994-96 and logged 12 seasons in the big leagues) and his own years in the minors was part of the education for Wes.

“Professional baseball taught me a lot,” says Carroll. “I learned a lot of what not to do. That is key in anything you do in life.

“I like to simplify things.”

Carroll, who is 251-264 for his UE career, tries to keep it simple when talking hitting, fielding or pitching with his Aces. The 2014 team won 34 games and the Missouri Valley Conference title. In 2015, Kevin Kaczmarski (.465) led the nation in hitting and was the school’s first MVC Joe Carter Player of the Year.

The MVC attracts many pro scouts, who tend to find many top-notch pitchers. The conference gains exposure coast-to-coast on the ESPN3 web-based platform.

As the Aces prepare for 2018, Carroll and assistants Cody Fick, Jake Mahon and Boomer Synek — all three former UE players — are working with a roster made up mostly of Midwest players.

“As a private school with the type of job placement and graduation rates we have here, it opens doors for national recruiting,” says Carroll, who does have players from Texas, Colorado and Ontario. “But I like to stay as local as possible. Maybe a 60-mile radius (from Evansville).”

Working with the NCAA Division I baseball scholarship limit of 11.7, Carroll does not believe in over-recruiting and tends to carry no more than 33 players.

“We have a very small roster,” says Carroll. “We do not redshirt. Our admissions statement says we graduate students in four years. I’m not in the business of cutting people out of my program.

“Our word means a lot and it needs to be a two-way street. We try to form a family culture. Everyone on my roster is going to help me win a ballgame in some way, shape or form.”

Carroll wants players who fill the program’s needs and athletes who see what their probable place in the big picture.

For instance, if there are three upperclassmen at their position, they know it’s unlikely they see the field right away unless they really excel.

“Kids need to find the right fit for them,” says Carroll. “It’s on the families themselves to research. Where am I going to get a chance to develop in games?

“Our scholarship offer shows what kind of impact player I think you’re going to be.”

Pitchers demand a little more scholarship money than other players.

“They are the hot commodity,” says Carroll. “Then you look up the middle (catcher, shortstop, center fielder). “What we want is to have athletes on the baseball field. I want them to be as versatile as can be (on defense and offense). They can handle the bat, run bases and have instincts in the game of baseball.”

Carroll does not select captains.

“We’ve leaned on upperclassmen quite a bit,” says Carroll. “Going into (2018), we have great leaders in the sophomore class. Leaders emerge with how talented they are and hold other guys accountable. Those guys emerge throughout the course of the year. You can’t anoint a certain person. They just rise to the top, no matter what class they are in.”

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Wes Carroll, a 2001 University of Evansville graduate, is entering his 10th season as head coach at his alma mater in 2018. (University of Evansville Photo)

 

Respect for the game essential for May, Gibson Southern baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Continuity.

Consistency.

Stability.

That’s what the Gibson Southern High School baseball program has had since the Titans first took the diamond in the spring of 1975.

Only two men have led the program — Jim Reid and Chris May.

Reid, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, coached the Fort Branch Twigs for one pre-consolidation season. After Fort Branch, Haubstadt and Owensville high schools combined to make Gibson Southern, he was head coach from Day 1 through 2007.

That’s when junior varsity coach and 1974 Haubstadt High School graduate May took over and he’s still on the job. A member of that last graduating class, he played second base for Elites coach Glover Priar then went on to Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) where he was guided for one season by Jim Brown and three by Larry Shown.

Cousin Gary May, a Gibson Southern graduate, was a ISU-E teammate and is now the Titans head softball coach.

After college, Chris May taught one year in Evansville. In 1979-80, he began teaching third and fourth graders in the South Gibson School Corporation. He is now teaching third grade at Haubstadt Community School. He also has decades of experience coaching eighth grade basketball and Junior Titan Football in addition to the high school baseballers.

“It’s a nice change of pace,” says May. “I have the young kids during the day (and the older ones after school).”

Decades of coaching also has its perks.

“It’s neat to see kids coming through and I coached the parents years ago,” says May.

Gibson Southern has enjoyed its share of baseball success, winning outright or sharing nine Pocket Athletic Conference pennants with nine sectional titles, two regional crowns, two semistate championships and one state runner-up finish.

The Titans have reigned in three Evansville Bosse sectionals (2008, 2013, 2014), one Jasper Regional (2014) and one Plainfield Semistate (2014) and placed second in the state (2014 vs. Andrean) — all in IHSAA Class 3A — and also been co-PAC champions twice (2013, 2014) with May in charge.

The 1994 team was in the single-class Final Four. Penn beat the Titans 1-0 then McCutcheon 4-3 to claim its first state championship hardware.

Two Gibson Southern seniors — Brad Heuring in 1994 and Matthew Harpenau in 2014 — have been presented the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award at the IHSAA State Finals.

May likes to win as much as the next guy, but he bases his program on the enjoyment and respect for the game.

“We want the kids to come out and have a good time,” says May. “We teach them baseball the right way. We want them to respect the other team and respect the facilities.”

Countless hours have been spent tending Gibson Southern’s home field on its Fort Branch campus. Among the recent upgrades is the replacement of a windscreen on the outfield wall with privacy slats.

With an interest in hosting a sectional, May says adding more bleachers has been discussed. The 3A Titans were runners-up to Boonville in the 2017 Evansville Bosse Sectional and are assigned with Pike Central, Princeton and probable host Vincennes Lincoln in 2018.

The Pocket Athletic Conference provides a challenge with its competitive programs and its geography. The PAC’s nine schools are in eight different southwest Indiana counties — Gibson Southern in Gibson, Forest Park and Southridge in Dubois, Heritage Hills in Spencer, North Posey in Posey, Pike Central in Pike, South Spencer in Ohio, Tecumseh in Warrick and Tell City in Perry.

While North Posey and Tecumseh are less than 20 miles from Gibson Southern, the others at least least 30 and Tell City is nearly 70. When the Titans play the Marksmen, that game often comes on a Saturday.

“It’s a very good baseball conference,” says May of a circuit boasting seven state crowns (four for South Spencer, two for North Posey, one for Tecumseh) and three state runner-up finishes (two for Tecumseh and one for Gibson Southern).

Each PAC team plays the other once. Occasionally, there are three conference games in the same week, which makes for some decisions on whom to pitch and for how long.

The 2017 season saw the IHSAA adopt new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days). May says he rarely ever lets a pitcher go over 100 tosses in a game. He did have to adjust to the required days of rest when the hurler delivered just over 35.

“You have to be careful,” says May. “That was more of a thing for me. For the most part, (the pitch count rule) seemed like it worked pretty well.”

While he says others might get involved, May expects Zach Pullum, Steve Lintzenich, Danny Colbert and son Dustin May to be part of his 2018 coaching staff.

Chris and Lynn May have two children. In addition to Dustin, there’s Stacey (she is a meteorologist on Channel 25 in Evansville) and there are five grandchildren.

Gibson Southern had two ties to Japanese baseball in 2017. Not only did exchange student Sora Kashiwagi suit up with the Titans, 2004 graduate Eric Campbell played in 21 games for the Hanshin Tigers.

Selected in the second round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, Campbell played in Double-A ball with the Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners organizations.

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Chris May is the head baseball coach at Gibson Southern High School. He followed Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Reid. They are the only two men to guide the Titans program. (Gibson Southern Photo)

 

Roman grinding his way through baseball career and that’s the way he likes it

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Some athletes embrace the grind.

Others want nothing to do with it.

Mitch Roman is proud to be a grinder.

The former Hamilton Southeastern High School and Wright State University infielder played his first full professional season in 2017 and he knows it was the willingness to work that helped make it a success.

A 6-foot, 161-pound shortstop, Roman was chosen as a mid-season Class-A South Atlantic League all-star with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators. Swinging from the right side and primarily in the No. 2 hole for manager Justin Jirschele, he wound up the season with 516 at-bats and hit .254 with three home runs, 14 doubles, 45 runs batted in and eight stolen bases.

“I felt like it went well,” says Roman, who was selected in the 12th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox. “I outplayed what people thought I’d do.”

North Division champion Kannapolis lost to South Division winner Greenville in four games in the SAL Championship Series.

Roman, 22, played in 132 games in 2017 after 67 with rookie-level Great Falls and 62 with Wright State in 2016.

Through it all, he has just focused on enjoying each moment.

“You just go out there and have fun,” says Roman. “That’s all baseball is. Have fun and good things will happen.”

Mitch is the son of Dan Roman — the new Brownsburg High School head baseball coach who won 406 games at Lawrence Central and Carmel high schools after playing at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, Indiana State University and three seasons in pro baseball.

“He was a hard-nosed guy, but he just let me be myself,” says Mitch Roman of his father. “He never really forced me into anything. My mother (Leslie) would say giving 110 percent. But if you gave it your all, nobody would ever be mad at you.”

Older brother Brent (now 26) played some high school baseball and really excelled on the wrestling mat. Brent was a 125-pound IHSAA State Finals qualifier as a Hamilton Southeastern senior in 2010.

Mitch got another dose of determination playing at HSE for head coach Scott Henson. Taking over the Royals in Roman’s senior season (2013), Henson led them to the program’s first sectional title since 2004.

“He taught us to play tough,” says Mitch of Henson, a man he still communicates almost every week. “He was a hard-nosed coach but a player’s coach. He turned that program around.”

After a season at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, Roman landed at nearby Wright State, where Greg Lovelady was then the Raiders head coach.

“He told us if you do things the right way, we’ll win games,” says Roman of Lovelady, the former University of Miami catcher who is now head coach at the University of Central Florida. “You move guys over and choke up with two strikes.”

In the upper Midwest, college and high school players find themselves heading indoors in November and not getting back outside until the season starts. At Wright State, Lovelady and his staff, which included Jeff Mercer (now the head coach and a Franklin Community High School graduate), insisted that the Raiders would not use the weather as an excuse.

“That’s what makes better teams,” says Roman. “We had to grind through that cold. There was grind and grit that every player put into that program.”

The Raiders went to the NCAA regional finals in both of two Roman’s seasons (2015, 2016).

A number of players from central Indiana have found their way into professional baseball by spending years making themselves better despite not having the chance to play outdoors year-round like some places in the country.

“It’s good baseball talent,” says Roman. “Guys who work hard for 18 years and come out of nowhere.”

Roman played travel baseball with the Hamilton Southeastern Royals then the Indiana Mustangs during his high school years. He had summer collegiate stops with the Grand Lake Mariners of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in 2014 and Fayetteville (N.C.) SwampDogs of the Coast Plain League in 2015.

Getting ready for the 2018 grind, Roman will be working out and teaching at Power Alley Academy in Noblesville. Jay Lehr, who coached with Dan Roman at Carmel, is president and lead pitching instructor.

 

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Mitch Roman (facing the camera), a 2013 Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate and former Wright State University standout, played his first full professional baseball season in the Chicago White Sox system. (Kannapolis Intimidators Photo)

 

Malcom using baseball to give back to Elkhart community

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cory Malcom wants to give back to his hometown. Naturally, that gift to the community will involve baseball.

St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguer Malcom and Cleveland Indians farmhand Tanner Tully — co-MVPs on Elkhart Central High School’s 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state championship team — are conducting a pitching camp 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5 at Elkhart Sports Center. They will teach about mechanics, arm care and more.

“It’ll be good for the town,” says Cory, who will be assisted by father Jimmy Malcom. “He knows a little bit about the game.”

Jimmy Malcom teaches about 35 lessons a week out of ESC with his Walk-Off Warehouse. An all-stater at Elkhart Memorial High School and then at the College of Central Florida and Bradley University, he has coached youth baseball for decades.

Cory Malcom grew up in Elkhart with a group of friends, including Tully, while being taught the game by Jimmy. The traveling Rip City Rebels enjoyed lots of diamond success.

“One of the problems we have now is we don’t really have a feeder system (for Elkhart schools),” says Cory, now 22. “It would be nice to see a whole group go together like we did.”

Cory was a Rebels fixture from age 8 to 14. At 15, he took advantage of an opportunity at experience and exposure on the travel ball circuit with the Indiana Bulls, playing with the high-profile organization in the famed East Cobb tournament in Georgia. At 16 and 17, he was a regular with the Dan Held-led Bulls.

Playing on a team that had nearly 20 players earn scholarships to NCAA Division I school, including Zionsville High School’s Parker Dunshee (Wake Forest University and then the Oakland Athletics system). Cory landed an invitation from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.

Playing four seasons of D-I baseball for the Chris Curry-coached Trojans, the 6-foot right-hander made 61 mound appearances (44 as a starter) and struck out 273 and walked 84 in 287 innings. The summer before his junior year, he played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the prestigious Cap Cod League.

Malcom made the dean’s list all but one semester and graduated from UALR with a degree in health promotions with a minor in health exercise and sports management. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 34th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

With the short-season Gulf Coast League Cardinals in Florida, Malcom went 0-0 with a 3.18 earned run average. He pitched in 12 games (all in relief) and whiffed 14 batters (with just two walks) and 11 1/3 innings before coming back to Elkhart, where he is following prescribed exercises on a phone app. He plans to begin throwing again in mid-November and go back to Little Rock to work out with the college team in January. Before leaving, he will also teach the game at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen.

His understanding of kinesiology has helped Malcom and his teammates identify areas of soreness and know which exercises to use.

Throwing mostly from a three-quarter arm slot in high school, Malcom was asked to go “way over the top” as a freshman by then-UALR pitching coach Chris Marx (now at Campbell University in North Carolina).

“I was not getting much movement so I started going higher on top,” says Malcom. “If I have (downhill) angle on my fastball and hit my locations like I normally do, I should have success.”

Malcom credits Curry for life lessons.

“He taught you how to present yourself in public and how to go about your business,” says Malcom of Curry, a man who played at Meridian (Miss.) Community College and Mississippi State University followed by seven years of pro baseball. “He also helped me through the draft process.”

Leading up to the draft, Malcom would come to the field hours early to meet with scouts, who were trying to get to know potential picks better.

It was while charting pitches a day before his scheduled start that Malcom got acquainted with the Cardinals scout that would sign him — former Little Rock assistant Dirk Kinney.

After turning pro, Malcom adapted to a relief role.

“In college, I considered myself a starter,” says Malcom. “You have to save your bullets because you hope to get six or seven innings of our yourself. There’s a leeway there if you give up a couple runs. You get to find a groove. The bullpen is cut and dried. You either get the job done or you don’t and you don’t have time to time about it.”

In short order in the Gulf Coast League, Malcom went from middle relief and setting up and finishing games while getting his fastball, breaking ball and change-up over for strikes.

“It was kind of a weird year,” says Malcom. “I was coming off of a lot of innings during the college season. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do (in the future), I think I could be a quality guy out of the bullpen.

“It’s a fun thing to go right at them with everything you have. You can go max effort.”

In most games, his fastball was topping out at 93 mph from that downward angle.

Some organizations take a hands-off approach for the first 90 days after drafting a player and that’s the way it was with the Cardinals. GCL Cards pitching coach Giovanni Carrara was very encouraging to Malcom and others and told them not to put too much pressure on themselves.

But they did not really address mechanics.

“They gave you some free time to figure out things for yourself,” says Malcom. “I was used to feedback all the time at Little Rock. They treat you like a grown man (in pro ball). Baseball is your job and take it seriously.”

For more information, on the Elkhart Sports Center camp, call ESC at 574-294-5050 or Jimmy Malcom at 574-215-5612. To set up a session with Cory at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy, call 734-751-3321.

CORYMALCOMCARDS2017

Cory Malcom, a graduate at Elkhart Central High School and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, is coming off his first professional baseball season in the St. Louis Cardinals system. He plans a pitching camp with friend and former high school teammate, Tanner Tully, Sunday, Nov. 5 at Elkhart Sports Center.

 

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

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TRAYFLETCHER

T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)