Hisner’s been a hit in decade at Whitko

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Plate discipline is something Erik Hisner carried into the batter’s box with him as a player and it’s a concept he teaches his hitters as head baseball coach at Whitko High School.

“We talk a lot about being selectively aggressive,” says Hisner, who enters his 11th season with the Wildcats in 2017. “I want guys to be aggressive on fastballs early in the count if it’s their pitch. The times we’ve gotten in trouble we’ve been almost passive.

“Understanding (baseball) situations is something we continue to work on.”

Whitko, which has moved from Class 3A to 2A, shared the Three Rivers Conference title in 2016 and have been state-ranked in recent seasons. The Wildcats advanced to the sectional championship game for only the second time in program history in 2009.

Hisner, who still holds career offensive records he set at Goshen College where he was a one-time NAIA All-American and NAIA all-region honorable mention selection and three-time all-conference pick from 2002-05 (.419 average, 211 hits, 161 runs batted in, 85 walks), comes from a baseball family.

Grandfather Harley Hisner played in the Boston Red Sox organization. His claim to fame is one mound start in the final game of the 1951 season against the New York Yankees. Harley struck out Mickey Mantle twice and gave up Joe DiMaggio’s last regular-season major league hit (a single). Harley appears in “Once Around The Bases (Triumph Books, 1998).”

Red Sox slugger and Hall of Famer Ted Williams and his “The Science of Hitting” book were respected in the Hisner household and those ideas were passed down to Harley’s son, Randy, who went on to play college baseball and coached his sons — Erik, Ryan, Shane and Gavin — at the Little League, Sandy Koufax or high school level.

In 2015, father and sons played on the same Fort Wayne-based adult league team managed by Erik.

The Hisners are also a family of educators. Randy teaches English at Bellmont High School (where he is also head boys cross country coach). Mother Cheryl teaches first grade at Southeast Elementary School in Decatur.

Erik, 34, is a 2001 Bellmont graduate. He represented the Braves in baseball and basketball four years and tennis for two. On the diamond, his senior year featured conference and sectional championships along with all-conference, all-state and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star honors. He began his teaching career in Fort Wayne and now is a physical education instructor and athletic director at Whitko Middle School.

Ryan, 33, teaches science at Adams Central Senior-Junior High School (where is also an assistant track coach).

Shane, 28, teaches English at Japan.

Gavin, 26, teaches social studies at Bellmont (where is also an assistant boys cross country and track coach).

Besides his father, Erik Hisner also counts his college coaches — Brent Hoober and Jayson Best — among those who taught him the game.

“(Hoober) taught me how to structure and put your program together,” says Hisner of the man who was his head coach his first three collegiate seasons. “He was really good at letting guys play and not over-coaching. He wasn’t a micro-manager with players.

“Sometimes us coaches have to bite our tongue.”

Hisner said he learned much from conversations with Best, who went from pitching coach to head coach at GC in Hisner’s senior year.

“I learned how to manage a game and the the little things that go into it,” says Hisner. “I learned about thinking one or two plays or one or two batters ahead. (Best) played professional ball and had a lot of good stories and insight.”

Hisner was an assistant in Josh Keister’s first season as Maple Leafs head coach in 2006 and was going to be an assistant at Fort Wayne Northrop when the opportunity came up at Whitko.

Having been involved in his fall camps for a few years and because he knew his grandfather, IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bill Jones went to bat for the young Hisner.

“He got my foot in the door” says Hisner.

Two days after taking the job leading into the 2007 season, Hisner found himself among top Indiana baseball minds. There was (Hall of Famers) Jones, Chris Stavretti, Jack Massucci, Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber.

“You talk about the legends of Indiana high school baseball,” says Hisner. “It was like a $25 clinic at a facility in Fort Wayne. You can’t miss that one.”

Hisner has made many connections in the IHSBCA. Former Churubusco coach Mark Grove among his best friends in the profession.

Since Hisner did not have the benefit of an off-season when he started at Whitko, his focus was staying positive and working on a few little things.

“I’m a hitting guy so we talked a lot about approach,” says Hisner. “We’d make sure we knew what we were looking for in certain counts.”

While Whitko had been winless the previous season, it was not as grim as it seemed. The Wildcats had learned plenty of baseball from Lance Hershberger and those players were back to greet Hisner.

“(Hershberger) did a good job here.” says Hisner. “It wasn’t as bad a situation as the numbers might say. It wasn’t a situation where I had to come in a teach them how to throw and lead off.

“The thing about that year is I actually learned a lot from he kids by watching them play. To play for Lance, you’ve got to be pretty tough and pay attention to detail.”

The first Whitko win that season, snapping a long losing skid, was a one-run game against Heritage. Coach Dean Lehrman’s Patriots went on to be Class 2A state runners-up to South Spencer.

After that first year, Whitko took pride in its off-season work. The Wildcats played 25 to 30 games each summer in Hisner’s first few seasons.

“We got that family feel,” says Hisner. “We were kind of in the trenches together. It was nothing fancy. We just played a lot of baseball and got them experience.”

The evolution of travel baseball has limited or helped eliminate summer schedules at many high schools and the number of summer games for the Wildcats has dropped to 15 or 20, but still sees it as a good way to develop players.

Some get a chance to play travel ball and Hisner is all for it if it’s going to benefit the player.

“My parents have been pretty good about asking questions and making sure its a good fit,” says Hisner. “We’ve had good luck with teams like the Indiana Chargers, Summit City Sluggers and others who are doing it for the right reasons. It’s about development and not just playing games.”

Hisner’s coaching staff for 2017 features Travis Bradford, Mark Fisher, Tim Planck, James Stoddard and Seth Patrick. Bradford is a Whitko graduate and former Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne hurler, is the pitching coach. Stoddard and Patrick played for Hisner at Whitko.

“(Patrick) is probably the smartest player I ever coached,” says Hisner of the former Wildcats catcher. “We didn’t call the pitches when he was (a player) here.

“He was one of those program guys, a scrapper type.”

Baseball has long been a strength in the Three Rivers Conference (now containing 10 members), which has produced state champions (Wabash in 1986, Northfield in 2001 and 2012, Manchester in 2002) and a state runners-up (Northfield in 2013).

ERIKHISNER2

Erik Hisner enters his 11th season as head baseball coach at Whitko High School in 2017.

HISNERS

The Hisners (from left): Shane, Ryan, Randy, Gavin and Erik.

Advertisements

Talent, character key for Trine baseball’s Perschke

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A coach assembles a team and he expects that all of his athletes will be there for practice.

At Trine University in Angola where Greg Perschke is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach, it’s rare indeed when all of his players are in one place.

Class and laboratory schedules are bound to keep someone away at a school renowned for math, science and engineering.

“That’s just the way it is,” says Perschke. “As long as I can get the majority of them out there, we can be productive and get a lot of stuff done.”

Thunder baseball players get things done both on the diamond and in an academic setting.

“Forty percent of the kids that join my team are in engineering and they are graduating in four years,” says Perschke. “That’s very impressive.”

Since Trine (known as Tri-State through 2008) transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division III (no athletic scholarships) prior for 2005 season, Perschke has had 25 players on the all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association team with 11 first-teamers. His 2012 squad tied for second in the MIAA and the 2013 team won a school-record 25 games.

On Perschke’s watch, the Thunder have appeared in the MIAA tournament three times.

With two wins, Perschke will reach the 250 mark for his Trine coaching career.

Perschke, who counts Jeremy Campbell and Jon Lies as assistant coaches, handles pitchers, catchers and recruiting for the Thunder. The base is a radius of 2 1/3 to 3 hours from campus.

Like the general student body, many players come from Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. All but four on the 51-man roster for 2017 (33 varsity, 28 junior varsity) are from the Hoosier, Wolverine or Buckeye states. There’s two from Illinois and one each from Wisconsin and Connecticut.

Campbell and Lies do some scouting. Perschke, who is also an assistant athletic director, makes the final call on players.

“Recruiting is the biggest part of the program,” says Perschke. “Hit that hard and early or you’re going to struggle.”

When building his team, Perschke seeks baseball talent.

But that’s not all.

“Character is a big one,” says Perschke. “I get to know that recruit throughout the year. Family also goes a long way.

“Baseball is kind of the easy part. If that clicks, you can move forward.”

Of course, getting players who are an academic fit is essential. With Trine’s focus, most athletes come to the school certain of their scholastic path.

Perschke does find it challenging to keep so many players heading in the right direction. Not an issue when he played or when he began his coaching career, he now must account for how his athletes use social media.

“It’s how they represent themselves, the school and the program. That’s the big thing,” says Perschke. “It’s not a problem. A lot of it’s common sense. But you do have to talk about it more.”

Every other year, Trine players attend a session on the use of Twitter, Instagram etc.

“He’ll talk with them and wake them up,” says Perschke of the speaker’s message. “It’s not just friends, everybody can find (social media posts).”

Perschke is a 1985 graduate of LaPorte High School, where he pitched for coaching legend Ken Schreiber.

“You have to let a lot of stuff roll off your back, that’s for sure,” says Perschke in the book, A Cut Above: The history of LaPorte baseball (published in 2016 by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest). “It made you stronger and a better player. The game’s a mental game and you’ve got to fight through that.”

After LaPorte, Perschke pitched for Southwestern Michigan College, a two-year school in Dowagiac, Mich.

In 1989, Perschke was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft for the third straight year. After being chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 32nd round in 1987 and the Atlanta Braves in the 23rd round in 1988 and not signing either time, the 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher was picked by the Chicago White Sox in the 24th round out of the University of New Orleans, where he had played for Tom Schwaner, and did sign a professional contract.

He went 45-35 in eight minor league seasons with the White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians organizations, including five at Triple-A.

“Schreib, all the managers and  coaches I’ve played for set the tone for everything I’ve done in baseball,” says Perschke. “It’s the foundation of what I’m doing now.”

Perschke received a bachelor’s degree in communications from UNO in 1998.

TRINETHUNDER

GREGPERSCHKE

Greg Perschke is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach at Trine University in 2017.

Childers teaching lessons about adjustment, baseball concepts at Goshen College

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pulling together a Goshen College roster with players from 10 different states and one Canadian province, Alex Childers is going about teaching lessons on and off the baseball diamond.

Childers, who in his fifth season as head coach for the Maple Leafs, wants his athletes to be adaptable, students of the game and above all else — students. After all, GC is a highly-ranked institution of higher learning.

“At the college level, you have got to be good at development,” says Childers, who played his college baseball at Goshen College and Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. “You want to recruit good players, but you’ve got to develop the talent as well.

“When you let then be athletes and players, you can maximize potential. That’s what we try to do.”

Making the most of the fall and winter and the rare spring practices, Childers and his coaching staff of Justin Grubbs, Jackson Callahan and Doug Wellenreiter do their best to create intelligent baseball players.

“I try to teach the game and concepts,” says Childers. “When you micro-manage too much, you’re not teaching the concepts of the game.

“I want guys to understand when it’s a good time to run vs. I’m going to give you the steal sign so you’re going to run. I want players to understand the game. When is it a good time to be aggressive on a ball in the dirt? When is it a good time being aggressive going first to third? As opposed to me just moving the chess pieces around.”

Childers also expects players to be willing to move around on the diamond, which sometimes involves some candid conversations.

“Most guys on our team had a position change,” says Childers. “In the fall, we try to move every single one of our guys around.”

The thought is that knowing a different position never hurts and it gives a player more of a chance to crack the lineup.

“If you think you’re just a second baseman and that’s where you think you’re going to play, that’s great,” says Childers. “But you have to make our team the best when you’re at second base.

“Sometimes that’s a tough concept for guys to get.”

Citing a couple of examples of getting Leafs to buy into a switch, Childers points to current senior Preston Carr and former player Arick Armington.

Carr, who hails from Ontario, came to GC as a pitcher-second baseman. He was turned into an honorable mention all-conference selection and two-time Gold Glove winner in center field.

Armington, who played high school baseball at Elkhart Christian Academy, was convinced to make an adjustment, moving from the middle infield.

“I told him, ‘Aric, we’re better when you’re in center field,’” says Childers. “You have to get guys to buy in.”

And confidence is key.

“It’s a tough thing,” says Childers. “You know how baseball is, if you don’t have an ego you don’t last very long because of how much failure is involved.

“You’ve got to believe that you belong. You’ve got to respect decisions I make as the coach. But if you don’t believe you can do it, you’re in the wrong sport.”

Childers wants his players, especially freshmen, to know what to expect.

“Let’s be honest, here in the north you play on good weather days,” says Childers. “On poor weather days, you’re not playing and you’re back in the (batting) cage. We play 55 games in essentially 2 1/2 months. It is a sprint.”

GC coaches talk about players having the ability to be present.

“We talk say ‘be where your feet are,’” says Childers. “That basically means stats are a reflection of what’s happened in the past, you need to be present right now. If you don’t have that concept, the season can get on you quick. Before you know it, you’re throwing away at-bats or throwing away games and you don’t want to do that in a career that’s so short.”

Some Leafs don’t have a short trip to campus. Besides Indiana and Ontario, the 2017 roster features players from California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

“We have students from all over, why can’t we have baseball players from all over?,” says Childers. “I’d love to have local guys, but we can’t limit ourselves to just that. We have to think outside the box (in recruiting).”

When recruiting, Childers and his staff are looking for players who are academically strong. The NAIA allows 12 scholarships for baseball, but the Crossroads League has a limit of 7.6, so things like institutional aid come into play.

“If the kid has a high GPA, it just increases his scholarship level for the school which I can add onto from a baseball standpoint,” says Childers. “It’s a little bit of a matrix trying to figure out how to package guys the best.”

Childers said players have gone on to professional baseball out of the Crossroads League, but that’s not the focus at GC.

“At the end of the day, college baseball is a means for you to get an education.” says Childers. “If you can keep playing for four more years, that’s just icing on the cake. We treat it that way. I tell parents all the time, we don’t apologize for the academic portion of what we do. You want to keep in perspective what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Childers, who graduated from New Haven High School in 2003, said he owes much of what he knows about baseball to Bulldogs head coach Dave Bischoff.

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who practices harder and is more passionate about the game,” says Childers of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He’s somebody who cares deeply.”

Bischoff instilled in Childers, who was also a New Haven assistant for two years after his college playing days, the importance of mental toughness and getting the most out of players.

“My senior year in high school was a pretty senior-laden group but not the most talented group,” says Childers. “Coach Bischoff got the most out of us. We were a 20-win team and won a sectional title. He fit guys into roles and maximized the potential he had.

“I’m pretty fortunate in having him as a mentor.”

ALEXCHILDERS1

Alex Childers is in his fifth season as head baseball coach at Goshen College in 2017. (Goshen College Photo)

ALEXCHILDERS2

Alex Childers (left) coaches third base during the 2014 season. (Goshen College Photo)

Mishawaka’s Huemmer keeps it positive, reaps rewards

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Affirmation from the top and leaders choosing not to listen to the naysayers can lead to memorable accomplishments.

Just ask John Huemmer.

Keeping upbeat thanks to their head coach and led by a senior class intent on “proving ‘em wrong,” the 2016 Mishawaka High School baseball team took the program’s first IHSAA sectional championship since Huemmer took over the program in 2005.

The Cavemen beat South Bend Clay 3-2 (nine innings), LaPorte 10-9 and Plymouth 5-1 to reign at the Class 4A South Bend Clay Sectional. It was Mishawaka’s first title since 1997.

“The most important thing is to stay positive,” says Huemmer, who enters his 13th season at the Northern Indiana Conference school in 2017. “It’s not good to beat down a kid. You want to raise them up. That makes a big difference. If you keep encouraging, you’re going to get the most out of a kid.

“That kid’s going to buy into what you’re saying and they’re going to give everything they’ve got — not just for the head coach but, more importantly, for their teammates. If the kid is giving effort, then you have nothing to complain about. Mistakes are going to happen.”

If a player is striving to the best of his abilities, Huemmer tries not to dwell on a mistake. He just works to correct it and moves on.

The Cavemen were able to turn a negative in 2015 to a positive in 2016.

When Mishawaka bowed 9-8 to Plymouth in the semifinals of the ’15 Plymouth Sectional after letting momentum get away, Huemmer assembled his seniors-to-be and challenged them.

“What do you want for next year?,” says Huemmer in repeating a question he addressed to ballplayers in the Class of ’16. “I think that really set the tone for what we wanted to accomplish.

“Our record wasn’t what we wanted, but the pursuit of success and trying to win every game was there. The kids wholeheartedly wanted to do well last season. We came together at the right time and won the sectional.”

With his seniors leading the way, Huemmer hopes 2016 will feed 2017.

“We’re going to try to build on the momentum from last season,” says Huemmer, whose coaching staff includes Jim Shively as varsity assistant, Mark Bell and Andy Namisnak at the junior varsity level and Matt Went and Neal Hickle guiding the freshmen. “I wanted the guys to get a taste of what it’s like to win sectional. I knew if they got that taste, they’re going to want more.

“After we lost in the regional to Penn (4-3 in the semifinals), I heard ‘I want to do this again.’ That makes me feel great that they want to do it. Every year, I put the challenge on the seniors to do better than the previous year.”

Huemmer expects his seniors to be leaders, playing on their sense of urgency and reminding them that it is their final prep season.

“They’re the older kids,” says Huemmer. “They’re the ones that set the example. It goes with the thought: How do you want to be remembered at Mishawaka High School?”

The idea is that when seniors take ownership of the team, they want it more than being dictated to by the coaching staff.

“(The seniors of 2016) were just bound and determined to succeed,” says Huemmer. “To them, winning sectional proved everybody wrong.”

Huemmer enjoyed a long playing career. A right-handed pitcher, he graduated from Marian High School in Mishawaka in 1991 and played at Indiana State University for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn through 1996 then spent the summer of 1997 with the Lafayette Leopards of the independent Heartland League. He also pitched for 17 or 18 seasons in amateur leagues around South Bend with two summers in Grand Rapids, Mich.

At the same time, Huemmer had gone into the business world. He was lured into coaching by then-South Bend Adams High School head coach Joel Reinebold (now head coach at South Bend Clay).

The pitcher had been recruited as a high schooler by Reinebold when the latter was assistant to Brian Buckley at Hillsdale (Mich.) College.

Huemmer and Reinebold spent three seasons together at Adams then both moved over to be on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos at Penn. Huemmer coached Kingsmen pitchers for four seasons (2001-04; the first was a Class 4A state championship year for Penn).

When Gregg Minegar resigned at Mishawaka, Huemmer interviewed for the head coach position and was hired.

He welcomed the opportunity to make final decisions and implement the program he wanted to run.

“The biggest challenge is to get everybody to buy in to what I as a head coach want to instill as values, what I believe is correct for behavior,” says Huemmer. “It’s important for us as coaches to communicate those expectations. Then you have to act on it.”

Huemmer is careful to send a consistent message and not play favorites. If any player — starter or reserve — is not hustling, he needs to check that behavior.

“If a kid comes to me asking why I haven’t addressed that with someone who’s doing the same thing (as them), that ruins my credibility,” says Huemmer.

Part of Huemmer’s coaching philosophy was also shaped by his coach at Marian — Ray Lentych.

“One of the main points of emphasis for Coach Lentych was do the little things,” says Huemmer. “The little things add up to big things. It’s not just the one big thing that happens but everything that goes on throughout the game.”

Simply hustling and putting the ball in play can make the difference between winning and losing.

Following the National Federation of High School Associations’ edict, the IHSAA is putting a pitch count rule in place for 2017.

Huemmer welcomes it.

“Proper pitching mechanics are important in preventing arm injuries,” says Huemmer. “Also, having the pitch count rule is important to allow pitchers the proper amount of time to recover after pitching. Some programs will struggle with the new rule because they will not have pitching depth.”

Teams will be required to record pitch count totals on MaxPreps.com so the IHSAA will have a record.

Huemmer notes that communicating with a pitcher about how they’re feeling during an outing is key. It’s also important to note that pitchers might be able to go deeper into games later in the season and that factors like adrenaline in tournament situations can’t be discounted.

Mishawaka has been tracking pitches all along, using a tendency chart for opposing batters and a feedback chart for pitchers that shows ball-strike percentage on each ball-strike count (ie. 65 percent of strikes on 0-2 count).

MISHAWAKACAVEMEN

johnhuemmer1

John Huemmer enters his 13th season as head baseball coach at Mishawaka High School in 2017.

mishawakacavemen

Noblesville baseball culture foundation is program-first

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Keever didn’t start the baseball culture at Noblesville High School.

Millers baseball has a storied tradition. Men like Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Don Dunker and Dennis Kas had the ball rolling before Keever arrived on campus.

The former Twin Lakes High School and Butler University player left coaching and teaching jobs at Avon High School to become Noblesville head coach in the summer of 2004 and logged his first season in 2005.

In 2014, the Millers hoisted an IHSAA Class 4A state championship trophy. In Keever’s first 12 seasons, Noblesville has won four sectionals, three regionals and three titles in the “meat grinder” Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

With baseball assistants Kevin Fitzgerald, Caleb Small, Quinton Miller, Ben Yoder, Eric Slager and Gene Marinacci plus strength and conditioning coach Brian Clarke enforcing the same message, Keever has kept Noblesville among the best big-school programs in Indiana with a set of core values.

“We have really good staff,” says Keever. “They love kids and hold them accountable.

“It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Members of the program — coaches and players — talk about investing in each other and the good of the whole.

“When you can create that ownership in the program, you have something special,” says Keever. “When you have authentically invested in your teammate, they will be more receptive … they know you care.”

It can be expressed in a straight-forward equation — fitting in that Keever’s classroom job is math teacher — Program > Team > Individual.

Adopted from the Butler Way (Keever hit for a school-record average of .426 as a junior for the Steve Farley-coached Bulldogs in 1999), The Miller Way “demands commitment, denies selfishness and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above self.”

Noblesville follows the S.T.U.P.H. method.

Servanthood — makes teammates better, lead by giving.

Thankfulness — learn from every circumstance.

Unity — do not divide our house, team first.

Passion — do not be lukewarm, commit to excellence.

Humility — know who we are, strengths and weaknesses.

Keever said its the team-first philosophy that drives all three squads for the Millers — varsity, junior varsity black and junior varsity gold.

Is it a perfect system?

No.

“You’re dealing with teenagers,” says Keever. “There will always be push-back. We’re dealing with human beings here — coaches included.”

But with older players modeling behavior for their younger teammates, it becomes self-policing program and rules violators generally step back in line in short order.

“You learn the most from your peers and teammates,” says Keever. “They speak your same language.”

Keever expects a total buy-in and players striving for the high side of the “C” scale.

“If you’re resistant or reluctant, you are not going to be part of our program,” says Keever. “You can be compliant (do the minimum), committed (go above and beyond) or compelled (go above and beyond and bring people with you).”

To make the Millers better and allow for team bonding, Noblesville has been going on a southern trip (Kentucky in 2008 and Tennessee since 2009). This year means an appearance March 30-April 1 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Conference games will again for played as three-game series.

“It’s a blast,” says Keever of the format. “It’s the college model, how baseball should be played. Our league is able to do something like that. We finding out who has the best team, not just who has the best pitcher. (Indiana high school) baseball needs to get off the basketball model and onto the baseball model, especially in the state tournament.”

Keever notes that in basketball you are pretty much the same team each time out. In baseball, it makes a big difference who is on the mound.

justinkeever

Noblesville High School head baseball coach Justin Keever is a 1996 Twin Lakes High School and 2001 Butler University graduate. The 2017 season marks his 13th of leading the Millers.

New Haven baseball top dog Bischoff paying it forward

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Bischoff first barked out baseball commands for the Bulldogs of New Haven High School as an assistant coach in the early 1980’s.

Since the 1985 season, Bischoff has been the top diamond dog.

Taking lessons learned from some of Indiana’s top high school baseball minds, Bischoff has been successful enough at this East Allen County institution that he has been directing those commands at a facility renamed in 2009 as Bischoff Field.

“It should probably be named for my wife for putting up with us all these years,” says Dave, referring to Kristen, whom he married in the fall of 1984, himself and the two sons who played for him — Matt and Kyle (both who went on to play at Purdue University for Doug Schreiber). Matt is now his father’s pitching coach. “Matt says he’s my consultant. With that title, he can offer free advice at all times. He chose the job description.”

The current New Haven coaching staff also features former Bulldog players Mike Snyder and Brandon Pease and former Fort Wayne Concordia High School head coach Beach Harmon. The New Haven pitching record book is full of entries with Brandon Pease and Matt Bischoff.

It was also Matt who sent out a survey a few years ago to 100 of his father’s former New Haven players. The response was tremendous and some of them even focused on baseball.

The 2017 season will be Dave Bischoff’s 33rd season at New Haven. In the previous 32, the Bulldogs have won 586 games, 10 sectionals and three regionals while making three IHSAA Final Four appearances and taking four titles in a traditionally baseball-rich conference, which has morphed from the Northeastern Indiana Athletic Conference to the Northeast Eight Conference.

Bischoff Field, which will be sectional host site in ’17, has been upgraded over the years with a covered grandstand behind home plate, wooden walls in the power alleys and a wind screen in center field.

The veteran coach, inducted by his peers in 2014 to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, is proud that he has sent more than 50 players on to college and two — son Matt as well as Dave Doster (who played two seasons in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies) — went on to professional ball. Around two dozen have gone on to coach at the high school level with a few coaching in college.

Dave Bischoff gets even more satisfaction knowing that the life lessons he was passing along as a leader and mentor — be on time, bring your best, show up — were absorbed by young men who went on to be successful husbands, fathers and business owners. There’s even been an FBI agent or two.

Baseball began for Bischoff in Adams County. Back in the 1960’s, Little League baseball meant a city league in Decatur and a country league in Monmouth. Young Dave played in the latter.

He also played in a plenty of non-organized games while making his way up through Pony League (teams were based in Decatur, Burns, Geneva and Monroe) with hopes of playing or Bellmont High School on the corner of Adams and 13th at Worthman Field.

“It’s probably over-stated, but we played a lot and were coached little,” says Bischoff of his formative baseball days. “We played a lot of pick-up games. We learned by trial and error. To get better, you had to make adjustments.”

By the time Bischoff reached high school, there were 30 freshmen — or about 20 percent of the boys in the class — trying out for baseball.

Dave was cut that first year.

Determined, he played baseball in Convoy, Ohio and fast pitch softball in a local church league.

“Playing fast pitch softball against men, you learn a lot that way,” says Dave. Bischoff’s reputation for bunting and slashing teams at New Haven stem from all the fast-pitch softball he pitched in high school and college.

As a sophomore, Bischoff made the baseball team at Bellmont, where he graduated in 1975.

After that, he got a chance to play college baseball at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, then an NCAA Division III program. He chose the school because it was close, the price was right, it afforded him a chance to play.

A history buff, Bischoff gravitated toward becoming a social studies teacher (he’s taught history and English since the fall of 1982) and he’d decided coaching was also for him.

While still in college, Bischoff began coaching Little Leaguers and was given a chance to coach Bellmont’s summer program by new Braves head coach John Cate.

“In a sense, he gave me my first shot,” says Bischoff of Cate. “John impressed upon me the organizational skills to put together a program. He did things first class. It was evident kids bought into what he was doing.

“I understood real quick those are the things you have to do if you’re going to be successful.”

Cate took Bischoff to his first IHSBCA State Clinic in 1980 and that’s where he first met Purdue University coach Dave Alexander, who is also an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. The clinic would become an annual ritual and Bischoff would get to travel to and from Indianapolis with Hall of Famers like Bill Jones (DeKalb), Don Sherman (Huntington North) and Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop).

“It was like a got three clinics,” says Bischoff of his northeast Indiana-based travel companions. “They were great coaches and mentors. They would share anything with you.”

For two years after college, Bischoff served as a substitute teacher in East Allen County Schools and a baseball assistant to New Haven head coach and IHSBCA charter member Don Hummel before taking a full-time teaching position and baseball assistant job for two more years at Norwell Hugh School.

When Bischoff was established at New Haven and Jones stopped hosting his own coaches clinic at DeKalb, he encouraged the young coach to start one of his own. Jones hooked him up with Hall of Famers Ken Schreiber (LaPorte) and Jim Reinebold (South Bend Clay) as clinicians.

“I got to know those guys right away,” says Bischoff. “I feel fortunate that from a very early age I was being mentored by the founding fathers of the association. Those guys are professionals, organizers and icons. There are real good guys when it came to helping out a young coach.”

Bischoff was an IHSBCA district representative for 10 years and was the organization’s president in 2005-06.

unnamed

The Bischoffs (from left): Dave, Kristen, Matt, Casey (Kyle’s wife) and Kyle. (Family Photo Supplied)

all

Former big leaguer Stults explains importance of mental game to campers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

To pitch at high levels — college or pro — the space between the ears becomes even more important than the arm.

That’s one of the big lessons Eric Stults absorbed in his 14 seasons of professional baseball (2002-2015).

“It’s the mental part of the game,” Stults said after leading a pitching camp for youngsters Saturday, Feb. 25 at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. “A lot of guys can physically throw a baseball and throw it hard and well. But what separates the guys who excel or do so at the next level is their ability to mentally make adjustments and stay focused.

“It’s somebody I probably didn’t learn until college. More than physically, I needed to be mentally sharp. (After learning that,) I was practicing that as much as I was throwing the baseball.

“The earlier some of these players can get that, it’s only going to help them along the way.”

Stults played at Argos High School and Bethel College before being  drafted in 2002. The left-hander’s pro baseball odyssey took him through experiences with five different Major League Baseball clubs (Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves) as well as several minor league teams and in Japan (Hiroshima Toyo Carp).

While working toward the big leagues (he made his debut in 2006), Stults was introduced to the importance of the mental side.

“I got in a rut and was searching for something,” Stults said. “Someone said, ‘have you ever thought of the mental side of the game?’ I said, ’Not really. I just go out there and throw the baseball and hope for the best.’”

Stults started his Indiana Chargers camp remarks by focusing on enjoyment of the game.

“This is a game,” Stults said to 45 pitchers of varying ages and their parents. “We want to have fun.”

Then comes learning how to pitch — not just throw.

Even the hardest throwers can’t rely on velocity alone.

Stults, who resides in Middlebury, enjoyed longevity in the game not from gas but his ability to focus on the game within the game — pitcher vs. hitter. He was able to change speeds and the eye levels of hitters by moving the ball around.

After a Tommy John surgery early in his career — before he really knew the importance of arm care — he stayed relatively healthy.

While campers went from station to station for Crossover Symmetry Band work for rotator cuff and scapular strengthening, throwing and recovery drills with the help of ECBSA’s Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and George Hofsommer, Stults also took time to tell them about concepts like routine.

Stults, who worked with many coaches and sports psychologists throughout his diamond days, said his routine changed throughout his career, but having one helped with the mental side of the game.

One pre-pitch routine that he had was taking a deep breath and letting it go along with all of the tension.

“It can be that simple,” Stults said. “I also had a key word — FOCUS. It let me focus on the catcher’s glove and take the distractions out of my head. That allows you to get back into a good mind frame.”

Learning the mental side also helped Stults to keep from dwelling on the negative things and focus on his next pitch or next outing.

“The mindset is you’ve got to forget about it,” Stults said. “It’s easier said than done. But that comes through practice and mental part of the game. Let’s move forward.”

In discussing mechanics, Stults noted that not everyone delivers the ball in the same way or has the same arm slot.

“As an individual, you have to figure out what works for you,” Stults said. “When I talk about different grips and throwing different pitches, it’s trial and error.

“You have to be willing to try new things and be coachable.”

Stults encouraged players to learn how to “self-coach” and diagnose their own problems and find solutions.

He emphasized always having a purpose even when playing catch (throw to a target) and developing tempo and rhythm while using nice loose grip on the baseball.

As Stults, 37, looks back on his lengthy career, it’s the relationships that stand out.

“What was gratifying was the people I met,” Stults said. “You can sit there and talk about victories and this and that. But it’s the people I met along the way. It’s that clubhouse camaraderie I was able to have in baseball.”

ericstultscampic17-1

Former big leaguer Eric Stults demonstrates a grip during a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)

ericstultscampic17-2

Eric Stults throws at a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. He was helped by ECBSA’s Justin Barber (from left on right side of photo), George Hofsommer and Joel Mishler. (Photo By John Sadowey)

ericstultscampic17-3

A pitching camp by former big leaguer and Middlebury resident Eric Stults brought out several youngsters to Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)