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.

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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.

Discipline, structure part of Nielsen’s Concord program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Regimented and respectful.

Those are concepts Eric Nielsen is establishing in his second season as Concord High School head baseball coach.

“I’m very structured,” says Nielsen, who followed the retiring Jim Treadway as leader of the Minutemen. “All our practices are planned out. We have times and we stick to those times. Guys hustle everywhere they go. We’re very disciplined and are going to play the game the right way. I teach them to respect the game. There’s no trash talking at all. I’m big on body language.”

It’s taken some time, but players are starting to come around to Nielsen’s way of doing things.

“You are starting to see people buying into that,” says Nielsen. “They know what’s expected. Seniors will get on guys if they are not doing things the right way. That’s less that I have to do because that expectation is there.”

Nielsen was an all-state catcher at Elkhart Memorial High School, graduating in 2004. He went to be a regular behind the plate at Purdue University. His first high school head coaching stops came at Mt. Vernon (Fortville) and Knightstown before he moved back to north central Indiana.

Along the way, he has learned how to read his young athletes.

“I’ve learned really well how to manage the players,” says Nielsen. “I think that’s why (Chicago Cubs manager) Joe Maddon is so good at what he does. He’s not managing baseball, he’s managing people. In the olden days with (LaPorte coach) Ken Schreiber, it was this is the way it is and if you don’t like it ‘see ya!’ It was hard-nosed and it was tough.”

And while Nielsen considers himself a traditional, hard-nosed guy, he knows he has to motivate in a different way and keep his players engaged.

“If you know the game of baseball and you can build relationships, you’re going to be very successful, pending you have the talent,” says Nielsen. “I’ve seen teams that have the talent but they never go anywhere because they are so done with the season by the time the state tournament comes around. They’re cashed out.”

A syndrome that baseball and other spring sports face is a loss of focus because it’s the end of the school year. For 12th graders, they call it “senioritis.” But other grades — and even coaches — can get it, too.

Nielsen insists on holding out a carrot for his players.

“You’ve got to have them chasing something,” says Nielsen. “If you don’t, they’re going let up.

“How do you intrinisically motivate the player to want to compete? I tell them to get caught up in the process, don’t get caught up in the results.

“If I can get the process important to them then the results will come. If the process is not important to them, they don’t want to compete and there’s no reason for them to put in everything they have, you’re going to get that apathy.”

Nielsen looks at his 2017 team and sees pitching depth. At least nine of 12 varsity players can take the mound.

“The hard part is finding out who is my No. 1 and No. 2, who’s my best reliever,” says Nielsen. “We’re still in the process of finding that out.”

Along with pitching coach Mike McGregor, Nielsen looks at pitchers not only in terms of physical talent but what’s happening between the ears.

“We’re trying to teach mental toughness on the mound,” says Nielsen. “If we can have guys that will compete, saying ‘I’m going to strike this guy out.’ Even if they don’t, they are going to distinguish themselves from the rest of the players.”

What about the new pitch count rule?

“I thought it was going to be a bigger issue than it has been,” says Nielsen. “I traditionally don’t have guys throw that much anyway. I don’t push the 120 spot. As long as they’re under 80, I know how many days they need off.

“I thought I’d be juggling a lot. It hasn’t been too bad.”

Nielsen said the pitch count rule will likely be more of an issue during the IHSAA tournament series than the regular season.

“People are going to watch that really close,” says Nielsen.

Concord spends plenty of time at its regimented practices on “small ball.” The Minutemen work on moving runners with the bunt.

“We don’t have anybody on the team we can rely on to hit the long ball yet,” says Nielsen.

Something that Nielsen established in his first season at Concord was an Armed Forces Day (Concord Baseball Armed Forces Day on Facebook). It was such a hit, the Minutemen will be pay tribute to those who have served Saturday, May 6 when South Bend Adams visits for a 10 a.m. game.

Father Scott Nielsen (Army during Vietnam era) and grandfather Bob Burns (Air Force during World War II) and assistant coach Jason Paulson (Marines) are all people close to Nielsen with military ties.

As a social studies teacher at CHS, he also gets a chance to tell students about the importance of the military.

“It’s good to show the kids what these guys are doing day in and day out for our country and show them appreciation for the sacrifices that they make and have made for our freedom,” says Nielsen, whose other assistants are Sean Sears and Nic Minder.

The Minutemen compete in the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). The double round robin NLC race began this week.

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Eric Nielsen, a 2004 Elkhart Memorial High School graduate, is in his second season as head baseball coach at Concord High School. He was a catcher at Purdue University.

700 wins in, Wapahani’s Dudley has not changed all that much

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Dudley just reached the rarified air of the 700-win plateau as an Indiana high school baseball coach.

Dudley steered Wapahani to a 9-1 win at Mid-Eastern Conference foe Randolph Southern April 12 to reach the milestone.

But that doesn’t mean he’ll be hitting fewer fungos or throwing less batting practice to his players.

Dudley will still be teaching the game and taking care of Raider Field — a diamond showplace in the Delaware County town of Selma.

“I’ve been very fortunate to not only have good players, but good kids,” says Dudley. “They all came from good families that have been supportive of our program.

“A lot more goes into it than one guy getting credit for 700 wins.”

This coach and educator is not given to long-winded speeches or flashiness.

“I’m simple,” says Dudley, an Accounting and Careers teacher at WHS.

Written below his likeness on his Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame web page is a simple, heart-felt sentiment:

“I have been blessed to serve as the Wapahani Varsity Baseball Coach since 1984. This honor is dedicated to the coaches, players, parents, and fans that have made Wapahani Baseball so special to our community.”

The building blocks of the program are straight forward.

“We just do things the right way and with class,” says Dudley. “We’re not here to show people up and do things that would be unsportsmanlike.

“What we’ve tried to do for a long time is have an expectation to win — from Day 1 when I started until now, we expect to win.”

Each senior class feels an obligation to keep the tradition alive.

“They don’t want to stand out and be the group that didn’t win,” says Dudley.

What does 700 victories mean to Dudley?

“I’ve been here a very long time and we’ve been pretty successful throughout those years as well,” says Dudley, a 1976 Wapahani graduate.

Success is just what the Raiders have enjoyed on a regular basis.

Besides 25 MEC titles (1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016), Wapahani has won 14 sectionals (1989, 1990, 1991, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014), six regionals (1989, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2014), two semistates (2004 and 2004), one state championship (2014) and one state runner-up (2004) — all on Dudley’s watch.

The Raiders beat Evansville Mater Dei 2-0 for the 2A title in 2014.

IHSBCA all-stars include Mike Schuck (1986), Brady Stevens (1988), Joe Luce (1989), Bobby Hirst (1990), Mitch Druckemiller (1993), Joe Hirst (1994), Kris Luce (1997), Donnie Collins (1998), Travis Johnson (2002), Eric Van Matre (2004), Jeremy Hazelbaker (2006), Devin Wilburn (2010), Brandon Estep (2011), Hayden Woodard (2013) and Zack Thompson (2016).

Hazelbaker was a standout at Ball State University and made his Major League Baseball debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. He is now with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Playing in the MEC (along with Blue River Valley, Cowan, defending 1A state champion Daleville, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Union (Modoc) and Wes-Del) tests the Raiders as does a strong non-conference schedule peppered with larger schools.

“Our conference is pretty competitive,” says Dudley. “It seems that no matter where you’re at, each team has a least one good pitcher. A lot of kids from our conference have played college ball. For being (a 1A/2A) conference that says a lot.”

Baseball has long been a priority at this place. Selma High School (which later consolidated with Center to former Wapahani) won a sectional in the first year of the IHSAA state tournament series (1967).

Time has also given Dudley some perspective and changed his coaching style a little bit.

“I’m a little more laid back after 34 years then I probably was the first 10,” says Dudley. “It’s just a baseball game — not life. When you’re young and full of energy, you think it’s life and death and it’s really not.”

When Dudley took over at Wapahani, the field had an all-dirt infield and now has spacious dugouts, a bricked backstop wall and tiered stands with a substantial press box and concession stand.

“We’ve had a lot of changes,” says Dudley. “The community takes pride in our field and our program.”

In a small town, baseball is a focal point and residents show up to watch high school, junior high (East Central Indiana League) and youth games.

We have a great Little League in Selma that has been strong for year and a lot of kids play in it,” says Dudley. “That’s been a good feeder system for us for sure.”

Dudley, who has a 2017 coaching staff of Jason Dudley, Randy Murphy, Willie Pease, Blake Turner and Drew Brandt, expects his hitters to be aggressive. The Raiders generally don’t grind just to run up the opponent’s pitch count.

“That’s more for the college level,” says Dudley. “We’ve got to be aggressive. You cannot become passive.”

Dudley says he is pretty happy with the current state of Indiana high school baseball. One thing he might change is the amount of time players are allowed to get ready in the preseason.

WAPAHANIRAIDERS

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Brian Dudley, a 1976 Wapahani High School graduate, is in his 34th season as Raiders head baseball coach. This year, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer reached the 700-win plateau. (Wapahani Photo)

Closser has Alexandria focused on work ethic, respect for the game

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tigers — in the wild — are known for being focused, determined and patient.

On the baseball field, the Tigers of Alexandria-Monroe High School are expected to display some of these characteristics and more.

Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria graduate, is in his 11th season as the Alex Tigers head coach.

“We always play hard (and are focused on) the integrity of the game,” says Closser. “I’m real big on treating the game the way it’s supposed to be treated and teaching the kids life lessons.

“It’s not all about baseball. It’s about learning to get along and deal with life, too.”

Closser wants his young athletes to know about strong work ethic.

“Kids are different hard now,” says Closser. “They think they want to work hard and they really don’t know how. We try to teach that.”

Assistant coaches Jeff Sells, Adam Rusche and Braden Warren are helping the sometimes-intense Closser deliver the message.

“You’ve got to trust your assistants,” says Closser. “You’re going to tell them things don’t want anybody else to know. You want to bounce stuff off their heads. They’ve got to take some stuff, too.

“I’m a pretty uptempo guy and I sometimes get excited. They’ve got to know that some of the things I’m saying to them they’ve got to let go over their head and not take it to heart all the time.”

Closser appreciates it when his younger players who don’t yet know his ways are counseled by the veterans.

“Our older kids will take them off to the side and say, ‘his bark is worse than his bite. Take it for what it’s worth. Listen to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it,’” says Closser. “Sometimes you have to be a dad to (players). Sometimes you have to be a coach to them or a mentor.”

When Closser took over at Alex, he established a junior high team, which mirrors what is being done at the high school and essentially has replaced Babe Ruth baseball in town. Those junior high boys play 20 games in June in the East Central Indiana League.

“I wanted them to start learning what we do at our level so when they come in as freshmen they could be ready,” says Closser. “It’s worked out really well for us.”

With so many three-sport athletes, there is not much travel baseball around Alex.

“I like three-sport athletes,” says Closser. “You don’t have to wonder what they’re doing when they’re not around you.

“I played three sports in high school. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it makes them a better person and more disciplined. You’ve got to have a routine.”

Alexandria, an IHSAA Class 2A school, has won 18, 19, 20, 22 and 16 games in the past five years and was off to a 5-2 start in 2017 despite not having a high team batting average.

“We’ll hang our hats on pitching and defensive this year and being aggressive on the bases,” says Closser. “We bunt; we steal; we hit-and-run. At this point, we have to do that kind of stuff to scratch out some runs.”

Baseball has a strong tradition at Alex. The Tigers have won seven sectional (1974, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1998, 2013, 2016), two regional (1981, 1998), one semistate (1998) and one state championship (1998).

The ’98 team (25-4), coached by Monte Sprague, featured Indiana Mr. Baseball J.D. Closser (Jeff’s son went on to play Major League Baseball with the Colorado Rockies after being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fifth round in 1998 and spending parts of the ’98, ’99 and 2000 minor league seasons with the South Bend Silver Hawks).

“It was fun to just sit back and watch,” says Closser. “They had a great team. It wasn’t just about (J.D.).

“It was fun for the other guys because there were always a lot of scouts around.”

In a 4-3 championship game win against Evansville Mater Dei, Joe Granger, Justin Musick and Mike Clark drove in runs while Granger, Clark, Justin Melton and Mat Blanton scored them. Jim Linder went to distance on the mound with nine strikeouts. J.D. Closser was presented with the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award.

That was the first school year for IHSAA class sports and Alex, coached by Garth Cone, also raised the state championship trophy for 2A boys basketball. Wade Leer, David Potter, Trester Award winner Rusty Garner and J.D. Closser logged the most minutes in the 57-43 title game win against Southwestern (Hanover).

J.D., the oldest of Jeff and Emily Closser’s three children, is coaching in the New York Yankees system. He is the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder (a Double-A affiliate).

Josh Closser played basketball at Alex and graduated in 2000. Jackie (Closser) Novinger graduated in 2003 and went on to play basketball at Butler University. One of her high school teammates was 2005 Indiana Miss Basketball Jodi Howell (who played at Purdue University).

The Tigers have produced eighth Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stars — DeWayne Allen (1981), Dan Overman (1984), Barry Morphew (1986), Dean Morehead (1990), Brian Yeagy (1991), Jeff Urban (1995), J.D. Closser (1998) and Owen Young (2014).

Alex plays in the Central Indiana Conference (with Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). Frankton has been ranked this spring in the IHSBCA Top 10. Each league team plays one another once on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

That leaves room for top-notch non-conference competition.

“We like to play a good schedule,” says Closser, who saw Alex host at an early-season tournament featuring defending 2A state champion Providence plus Rossville and Peru. “That puts us ready for the conference and for tournament time.”

JEFFCLOSSER

Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Alex Tigers.

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.

Franklin College’s Marshall continually gets committed student-athletes

rbilogosmall

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.