Hall of Famer Rademacher heeds call back to Barr-Reeve diamond

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“The Ball Park Is Calling And I Must Go.”

Joe Rademacher logged countless hours at the baseball diamond behind Barr-Reeve High School.

Coming to the Daviess County school in the fall of 1976 after a playing career at the University of Evansville, Rademacher threw himself into all things baseball. Not only did he coach high school players, he was also in charge of the summer program for kindergartners through eighth graders. He performed field maintenance and called on sponsors around Montgomery.

He enjoyed teaching the game, doing that well enough to win more than 400 games.

Rademacher’s 1998 Vikings finished the season at Victory Field in Indianapolis with an IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up finish.

The 1972 Holland High School (consolidated after his senior year with Huntingburg to form Southridge) served two separate terms as Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association president, building statewide relationships and gaining satisfaction from the rapport between the coaches and the IHSAA.

In 2007, the IHSBCA welcomed him into its Hall of Fame and his plaque hangs just down the road in Jasper.

But all his baseball responsibilities were physically taxing. After 33 years, Rademacher stepped away.

“I was worn out,” says Rademacher.

Away from all those duties, he had more time to spend with wife Anita and daughters Abby and Amber and to root for his beloved St. Louis Cardinals.

Nathan Lester took over the reins of the Barr-Reeve varsity and held that post for six seasons. Along the way, the field shared with youth baseball and adult slow pitch softball leagues finally put grass around the mound.

“We had one of the last dirt infields in the state,” says Rademacher.

When Lester decided he wanted to see more of his own kids’ games, players ages 6-12 went to the Chuck Harmon Little League in Washington and Rademacher’s teaching job changed from the classroom to physical education sessions without the papers to grade, the Hall of Famer answered the call back to the ball park.

Lester stayed on as an assistant coach and Rademacher began his second stint as the man in charge with the 2016 season and the Vikings won their first sectional crown since 2010.

The 2017 coaching staff also includes Kraig Knepp, Dean Scott, Josh Swartzentruber and Ryan Graber. For more than 20 years, the Vikings have played a junior varsity schedule separate from the varsity.

Junior high players at Barr-Reeve played in the spring and early summer, sharing the same diamond used by the varsity and JV.

“The field takes a beating in April, May and June,” says Rademacher.

A trip to a baseball game — be it in St. Louis or wherever — as an educational experience by the veteran coach.

“What can I learn today?,” says Rademacher, who has also gleaned plenty at clinics. “I watch what other people do. I try to incorporate those things. I played for good coaches (Wayne Ransome at Holland, Wayne Boultinghouse and Bob Hodges as a pitcher at Evansville) and picked up some things from them. I grew up 15 miles from Jasper and I’m now 25 miles from there. If you don’t learn something, you are not paying attention.”

Boultinghouse was a Rockport product who played in the Cardinals organization. Hodges is the brother of former major league, Saint Joseph’s College and Princeton High School star Gil Hodges. Rademacher is proud to say the Holland also produced U of E and pro basketball standout Don Buse.

Barr-Reeve baseball is built on solid pitching, but Rademacher also pays attention to hitting.

On a recent afternoon, the Vikings got ready for a home game against Vincennes Lincoln with indoor tee and cage work in the gym.

“Some of our players were too close to the plate and they were jamming themselves,” says Rademacher. “We wanted them to get back off the plate and diving into pitches better.”

Baseball, teaching and family life have kept Rademacher hopping this spring. The reveal for Abby’s first baby was staged around a weekend with the Cardinals.

By the way, a baby boy is due in August.

Barr-Reeve plays in the Blue Chip Conference (with Loogootee, Northeast Dubois, North Knox, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial).

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Joe Rademacher, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, is in his second stint as head baseball coach at Barr-Reeve High School. Beginning in 1977, he coached 33 years. He took six off and came back for the 2016 campaign. (Steve Krah Photo)

Monument to first pro league baseball game placed in Fort Wayne

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A significant happening in baseball history was commemorated exactly 146 years to the date after it happened on Indiana soil.

The first professional league game was contested between the Fort Wayne Kekiongas and Cleveland Forest Citys Thursday, May 4, 1871 and a two-sided marker was dedicated to celebrate the occasion on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at the site of the game, which is now Camp Allen Park.

As Society for American Baseball Research Kekionga chapter president Bill Griggs points out, that’s 5-4-71 to 5-4-17.

Because of heavy rains, it was very brief and a more formal ceremony is expected at a later date so more people can attend.

Archie Monuments of Watertown, Wis., constructed the marker, which is part of David Stalker’s Memorial Baseball Series. The Lou Criger monument, placed in Elkhart by Stalker and this writer in 2012, is part of the series.

Chapter founder Bob Gregory, a Fort Wayne resident and expert on early baseball, wanted to see the important time in baseball and American annals recognized, and pushed for Kekionga to be attached when he founded the Fort Wayne SABR chapter.

Gregory died of cancer in 2016. Working with current chapter president, Bob’s widow Mindy helped gather several of Bob’s books to be auctioned off to help pay for the monument, which now stands at the corner of Center and Huron near the St. Mary’s River as a reminder of the Summit City’s important place in the game’s history.

The list of others who helped is long. Some of those include local politician Geoff Paddock, local baseball historians Bob Parker (Fort Wayne Oldtimers Baseball Association), Don Graham, (Northeast Indiana Baseball Association), fundraiser Tim Tassler, Fort Wayne TinCaps executive Mike Nutter, the Fort Wayne park board and Fort Wayne News-Sentinel sports writer Blake Sebring.

More about the monument is sure to be learned by any attending a Kekionga SABR meeting at noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 6 on the west end of the second floor at the downtown Allen County Library.

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The first professional league game was contested between the Fort Wayne Kekiongas and Cleveland Forest Citys Thursday, May 4, 1871 and a two-sided marker was dedicated to celebrate the occasion on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at the site of the game, which is now Camp Allen Park. (Bill Griggs Photos)

Turner wants Logansport players to take field prepared for anything

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Turner Jr. has been a witness and participant in a large swath of Logansport High School baseball history in his 60 years.

He fondly recalls shagging flies while father Jim Turner Sr., prepared the Berries.

Later, he played for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer at LHS. Jim Jr. was the winning pitcher after Jim Jr. gave him the ball as a reliever in the fourth inning of the state championship game in 1975. Final: Berries 11, Indianapolis Marshall 5.

In 28 seasons (1964-91), Jim Sr. won 582 games with four state championships (1975, 1977, 1979, 1991), a state runner-up finish (1989) and another Final Four appearance (1990).

When Larry “Bud” Jones became head coach in 1992, Jim Jr. joined his staff and served seven seasons before becoming head coach himself in 1998.

Learning how to play the game from his father while growing up, the younger Turner gained much knowledge from Jones on how to coach young men.

Never much of a yeller and screamer, Turner Jr. says the players of today are generally not motivated by that coming from a coach and are likely to tune out.

“Coach Jones was a great mentor for me,” says Turner Jr. “It was his demeanor. He was calm but firm with players. He would never chew them out. he would describe what was wrong and give them a positive way to fix something.”

Turner Jr. says an adjustment must be suggested as part of the equation.

“Otherwise, you’re not coaching, you’re criticizing,” says Turner Jr. “Give them a way to fix the problem.”

Turner and his 2017 coaching staff — Brad Platt and Greg Korreckt at the varsity level and Cory Cripe, Ron Kinnaman, Mark Lowry and Carlos Villar with the junior varsity — work diligently with the Berries in practice to cover potential situations. Each position has a kind of checklist of things they should know how to do.

“We just try to teach players to be fundamentally sound and take responsibility for their development,” says Turner Jr. “We try to do our coaching in practice. That way we’ve rehearsed or at least talked about everything that could happen and prepare them for the games.”

The Berries adjust their offensive inclinations to their personnel. Turner Jr. says he needs more time to evaluate the new pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA.

After moving from Riverside Park to Fairview Park, Logan has been on its current on-campus field since the mid-1970’s. It was renamed Jim Turner Field for his father in the early ’90s and in 2016 the Berries became one of the few high schools in Indiana to have artificial turf.

“It’s going to become more and more common,” says Turner Jr. “After a certain period of time the investment pays for itself.”

Before the change to Sprinturf, the field did not drain well and the Berries lost games and practices to inclement weather.

With the turf, Logansport has been able to support a junior high school baseball program as well as soccer and other activities.

Coming off a 16-13 record in 2016, the Berries (10-7, 3-4) head into a May 3 North Central Conference game against Lafayette Harrison.

Established in 1926, the NCC is Indiana’s oldest high school athletic conference. Besides Logansport and Harrison, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon are in the West Division with Anderson, Indianapolis Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond in the East Division. The NCC tournament is slated for May 6 and 13.

Logan’s last sectional title came in 2002, the same season the Berries went all the way to the program’s eighth State Finals appearance.

Logansport High School baseball has a long tradition. The Berries now play on turf at Jim Turner Field.

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Logansport High School baseball has a long tradition. The Berries now play on turf at Jim Turner Field.

Sakosits emphasizes aggressiveness at Earlham

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They are thinking big at a little school in Richmond.

Head baseball coach Steve Sakosits came to Earlham College (enrollment around 1,200) from the world of NCAA Division I baseball and he looks to bring that experience with his Division III squad.

“We want to be Division I-esque,” says Sakosits, a 2006 Xavier University graduate who is in his seventh season at Earlham. “I’m trying to recruit Division I type guys.”

Taking things he learned from all three of his college head coaches — John Morey, Dan Simonds and Scott Googins — Sakosits has formed his own philosophy while adopting it to D-III where scholarship money is given based on academics and need.

“It’s fit and finance,” says Sakosits, who notes that D-I baseball has to split up 11.7 baseball scholarships and that Earlham recruits can often get more money when all factors are considered. “We want to recruit students first who have the ability to work hard in the classroom and on the baseball field.”

Pushing the pace in 2017, the Quakers (22-12, 17-6) just clinched a third-straight berth in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament and have a chance to be regular-season champions and tournament hosts.

Four HCAC home games remain — one against Mt. St. Joseph today (May 2) then a three-game series against Hanover (one Thursday, May 4 and two Friday, May 5).

“We’re excited about that opportunity,” says Sakosits of a chance to host four-team postseason play on the turf at Randal R. Sadler Stadium. The HCAC tournament winner is an automatic qualifier for NCAA D-III regional play.

Excitement is what the Quakers bring between the white lines.

Earlham lead all of D-III baseball in stolen bases per game with 3.85 per game and 131 total swipes.

Nate Lynch (41) and Brennan Laird (28) holds down the top two individual stolen base spots while Matt Barger (20) was fourth.

“We’re aggressive in everything we do,” says Sakosits. “We want to dictate the game. We don’t let the game come to us.

“(Our pitchers are) going to give up the free base.”

Sakosits, a 6-foot-5 right-hander as a New Jersey high schooler and at XU (where he made 68 mound appearances from 2004-06), insists his hurlers go after hitters and dictate counts  and the Quakers had 198 strikeouts and 98 walks through their first 297 innings.

Sakosits and his assistant coaches — Brandon Coduto, Beau Smith, Brandon Pennington, Garrett York and Kevin McGee — even time EC players getting on and off the field in practice.

The Quakers are expected to go hard in everything they do — academically and athletically.

“Baseball’s the fun part,” says Sakosits. “It’s just about teaching them how we’re going to go hard and what that means.”

When recruiting, Sakosits looks for hard workers. But he understands that those players may have been the “big fish in a small pond” and got by more on their athletic ability than work ethic.

“Hard work beats talent everyday,” says Sakosits.

That mentality becomes a priority once the player is on the Earlham campus.

One of the other D-I head coaches that Sakosits admires in Louisville’s Dan McDonnell and one of his quotes: “If you emphasize it, you’ll be great at it.”

Earlham’s 26-man 2017 roster features 14 who have hometowns in Indiana with eight in Ohio, two in Michigan and two in Kentucky.

Lynch (Wright State) and Laird (Cincinnati) are transfers from D-I schools. Howie Smith came to EC from D-III Marietta (Ohio).

When Sakosits arrived at Earlham he started an alumni club and the school began taking donations from alums.

“They’ve bought into the vision of the program,” says Sakosits.

Randy Sadler’s generosity led to the stadium with its turf, video scoreboard and locker rooms and a move away from sharing Don McBride Stadium (built in 1936) with Richmond and Seton Catholic high schools.

The first season at Sadler (2014) brought at 21-18 record — the program’s first above .500 since 1971. The Quakers went 26-14 in 2015 and 29-14 in 2016, qualifying for the HCAC tournament for the first two times in school history (Earlham moved from the North Coast Athletic Conference to the HCAC in the 2011).

Last spring, Earlham set school records for victories, at-bats, home runs, runs scored, runs batted in, stolen bases, wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched. In addition, the Quakers led the HCAC in home runs, walks, stolen bases, slugging percentage, walks allowed, and earned run average.

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Steve Sakosits is in his seventh season as head coach at Earlham College in Richmond. The Quakers won 21, 26 and a school-record 29 games the past three seasons and were 22-12 going into play May 2. (Earlham Photo)

International baseball expert, Indiana resident Bjarkman to receive SABR’S Chadwick Award

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

One of the most prestigious baseball awards will be presented to a longtime Indiana resident this summer.

Lafayette’s Peter Bjarkman — aka “Dr. Baseball” — will get the Society for American Baseball Research’s Henry Chadwick Award at the group’s national convention June 28-July 2 in New York.

According to the SABR website, the “Henry Chadwick Award was established in November 2009 to honor baseball’s great researchers—historians, statisticians, annalists, and archivists—for their invaluable contributions to making baseball the game that links America’s present with its past.”

Bjarkman, a Hartford, Conn., native, has authored more than 40 books on sports history. His latest work in “Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story.”

A former professor, he has taught at multiple places including Butler University, Ball State University and Purdue University. Wife Ronnie B. Wilbur, a leading researcher and authority on deaf sign languages, is a Purdue linguistics professor. The couple spends portions of each each in Europe.

At a recent gathering of the Oscar Charleston SABR chapter prior to an Indianapolis Indians game, Bjarkman shared his vast knowledge on the World Baseball Classic (he writes extensively about the subject in “Defectors”) and other diamond topics.

Bjarkman has been to all four WBC’s (2006, 2009, 2013, 2017) as part of the media contingent wherever Cuba was playing. He witnessed the finals in 2006 in San Diego, where Cuba was runner-up to Japan, and 2009 in Los Angeles, where Japan took gold by topping South Korea.

A fan of the old International Baseball Federation World Cup (which breathed its last because of financial reasons), Bjarkman was skeptical when Major League Baseball came along with plans for the WBC. MLB was attempting to take ownership of baseball on a global scale with an Olympic-style event.

“What the original IBAF World Cup did was foster interest in baseball in a lot of countries throughout the world

Sweden would go and lose three games but it would inspire young people in Sweden to try to be on the national team,” Bjarkman said. “You knew from the beginning MLB’s version was designed to showcase international players in the major leagues.

“It did not emphasize and foster international baseball. These guys may be playing for the Dominican now, but they’ll be playing at a ballpark near you soon in April.”

Bjarkman said MLB was hoping to gain financially in the same way FIFA has done with soccer’s World Cup. Of course, the scope could never be the same because not nearly as many countries play baseball and soccer.

IBAF trademarked the term Baseball World Cup in international courts so MLB went with World Baseball Classic.

“There’s a lot of things I love about MLB,” Bjarkman said. “It’s really not about globalizing and internationalizing the game as much as it is about creating international markets for major league products and Major League Baseball — the same way the NFL is doing by having its games in London and the NBA having games at locations outside the United States like China.”

When the WBC came along, Bjarkman enjoyed the event in-person.

“It was really a lot of fun,” Bjarkman said. “There was that element of seeing these players play for their own country.”

That sense of national pride differs from country to country. Bjarkman said players and fans outside the U.S. identify with their national flag. Here, fans tend to be a part of Red Sox Nation, Yankees Nation or wherever their team loyalties lie.

As Bjarkman sees it, the WBC was not marketed probably when the tournament began.

“The first couple tournaments they should have given tickets away,” Bjarkman said. First-round games in Miami in the first few years of the WBC and maybe 1,500 would be there for USA vs. Puerto Rico. “People see these games on TV and there’s nobody there, they say ‘this can’t be worth watching.’”

WBC eventually became a recognized brand and began getting a foothold, but it still has issues.

There’s the timing. Coming during spring training, many players (especially pitchers) are not a full-go yet and team owners don’t like having their expensive talent leaving camp for extended periods.

With the size of the field, Bjarkman there are now eight countries with legitimate national teams with others using mostly players with ethnic ties rather than natives.

Take Team Israel in 2017.

“It was a team full of American players with ethnic Jewish family backgrounds,” Bjarkman said. “This is not an Israeli team.

“This is what MLB has been stuck with by expanding this thing out. You’d probably want to have a six- or eight-team tournament. But that’s going to be a problem because how many games can you market on television?”

Bjarkman also pointed out that countries like the Dominican and Venezuela have much of their baseball talent drained by Major League Baseball.

Two countries who run baseball independent of MLB are Japan with its posting system and Cuba for political reasons.

What happens if Puerto Rico becomes a state, a realistic possibility in the near future?

Bjarkman ask that if there is a Puerto Rican team in the WBC after P.R. becomes a U.S. state, why can’t there be a Miami Cuban team?

A faction in the U.S. would like to put united Cuban team together with players such as Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu.

Cuba is opposed to the idea.

“They are still trying to maintain their own national baseball league,” Bjarkman said. “There has been a tremendous loss of players (to defection).”

Team Cuba at the 2013 WBC had seven of eight everyday players go on to the play in the MLB. Bjarkman’s research shows that 200 Cuba-born players since 1871 have played in the majors as of Opening Day 2017. He classifies 66 of those as “defectors.” The first in the post-revolution period (1961 to the present) Barbaro Garbey, who debuted with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. The next one is Rene Arocha, who first pitched in the bigs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1993.

Discussion in Indianapolis also turned to the international tiebreaker rule used in the 2017 WBC and first adopted at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The “Schiller Rule” allows that the team at bat began the 11th inning with runners on first and second base.

“It’s not baseball as we knew baseball, but tournament baseball isn’t either,” Bjarkman said. “In the context in which it’s used, it’s really exciting.”

The rule, which has been used during regular-season games in Cuba in the past, was adopted for expediency. Tournament directors are trying to avoid extra-long contests.

“How long is it going to be before we see this in Major League Baseball?,” Bjarkman said. “Why are we going to see it in Major League Baseball? Because of the commercial aspect. You don’t want games going past a certain time.

“They do all these things to try to shorten games. If you want to shorten games, don’t have so many commercials between innings.”

Other factors that lengthen games are the way pitchers are now. There are lefty and righty specialists and so many visits to the mound. It was once rare to have a pitching change before the seventh inning unless a pitcher was getting shelled in the early going.

“They’e trying to shorten games on one hand, but there are all these breaks for video reviews,” Bjarkman said.

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Lafayette’s Peter Bjarkman — aka “Dr. Baseball” — will get the Society for American Baseball Research’s Henry Chadwick Award at the group’s national convention June 28-July 2 in New York.

Despite challenges, baseball is making its way in Gary

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s not easy being a teenage baseball player in Gary, Indiana.

Area schools have closed, making for less opportunities in the spring.

Little League nationwide has dropped its Big League (ages 17-18) divisions for baseball and softball, leaving several players looking for a place to play this summer, including more than 250 in Indiana District 1 (Gary area).

American Legion (19-and-under) to the rescue.

Kevin Bradley and Ray Dix III know the situation well. The two men coached a Big League team together last year. This spring, Bradley is back for his second season as head coach at Bowman Academy and Dix has joined a coaching staff that also includes Lorenzo Scott.

Bradley, 44, is a veteran of the Gary Fire Department who first played T-ball at East Glenn. When that field was damaged, he and others moved to Midtown Little League (now Gary Metro Area Little League, where he is now president), also at 21st and Harrison. He went on to now-closed Gary Lew Wallace High School, graduating in 1991. He earned a scholarship to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., as a third baseman, shortstop and pitcher (he still plays in an area adult league).

After one season, he returned home as a volunteer coach in various leagues. coached at Gary Roosevelt for seven years before coming to Bowman.

Bradley wants to be involved for the good of the youngsters and the game.

“To me it’s important to have a high school coach — in this city especially — that knows the game and loves the game instead of just having somebody because they couldn’t find anybody else to coach,” says Bradley, who uses baseball to teach his players life lessons like accountability. “Once you leave high school everything is about life. If they want to play on the next level, they have to know what’s expected of them from their college coach as far as work ethic and everything like that.

“At the next level, you’re in the world now. There’s no more mommy and daddy picking you up to go to school.”

Thirteen players — seniors Zavion Brown, Martrell Dixon, Darreall Payne, Antonio Price, Devin Russell and Charles Thompson III, juniors Joseph Moore, Langston Stalling and Aaron Whittaker, sophomore Jordan Adams and Keondre Pippins and freshmen Deysean Jenkins and Ezekiel Sankey — come from all over the city come to Roosevelt Park at 21st Avenue and Harrison St. for home games and practices. It requires some boys to take two buses to get there.

Bowman Academy is a charter school.

“Charter schools offer an alternative education to public schools,” says Dix. “Parents who are a little more concerned about what’s in a child’s text book will send them to Bowman. It’s just a matter of choice.”

One of three Gary high schools fielding baseball teams this spring (West Side and 21st Century are the other two) Bowman has already played doubleheaders at South Bend Clay and Delphi.

“We try to expose the kids to different areas,” says Bradley. “We go out and play someone different as opposed to playing all the schools around here.”

The original idea was to beef up the schedule to get ready for sectional play. Because of IHSAA sanctions against all Bowman athletic teams, there will be no postseason this year and next.

These games will get some players ready for the summer, where American Legion baseball is going to fill some of the void left by the departure of Big League baseball.

At least three American Legion teams are being formed under the name Region Legion Expos with ties to East Gary Memorial Post 100 in Lake Station. Donations are being sought to foot the bills for uniforms, travel, umpires and more. Dix is also looking for more coaches.

While Bradley began playing baseball at age 4, many Gary kids are staying away from Little League at Gary Area Metro (west of I-65) or Miller (east of 1-65) because leadership has changed so much over the years.

“We’ve also found the older the kids get, the less interested they become,” says Bradley. “They old enough to drive, get a job or a girlfriend, whatever. In the this area basketball is the king. So we battle everyday trying to get these kids interested in baseball

“We try to make it feasible for parents to afford to have their kids play. Even if they never played before, we just want to introduce them to the game.”

Bradley, Dix and Scott look at baseball as “serious business” and that’s why they’ve embraced the Legion baseball for those who want to continue playing the game in high school and beyond.

Dix, 33, grew up playing baseball in East Chicago Civic Little League. His family moved to right before his freshman year and he played at Merrillville High School.

“I learned so much baseball from (Pirates coach Fenton Macke),” says Dix. “He allowed me as a freshman to ask too many questions. He was amazing.”

Dix went on to attend Indiana University and began helping as a coach with his little brother’s team at Merrillville Little League.

“By the end of the summer I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I was 19 years old,” says Dix.

Rahdric Dix went on to letter in basketball and baseball at Merrillville played baseball at Butler University and the University of Southern Indiana.

“My brother was an amazing athlete and a really good ballplayer,” says Dix, who went from coaching Little League in Merrillville to Lake Station. He was also an assistant for five years at Lake Station Edison High School. After a year off, he spent two years on the staff at Gary West Side — the same school that gave the baseball world 21-year big league pitcher LaTroy Hawkins.

Dix, who is working on his college degree, is concerned about all the potential idle youth caused by taking away baseball for older teens, but he is excited about the exposure that the ones who do get to play will receive. He plans to take his team to Illinois and Michigan and play 20 to 25 regular-season games this summer.

“The biggest hurdle we’re having is getting people to understand the giant change that’s come about,” says Dix. “I want to give as many opportunities to as many young men as I can (through American Legion baseball).

“The goal is to get kids seen (by colleges). Kids are going to get seen for $100. Everybody else is going to charge up to $1,000.”

Legion ball became an option when Dix came in contact with Indiana second district baseball chairman Joe Kusiak, who is looking to add teams around northwest Indiana.

There would have been multiple options if they cut off the program at 17U or 16U, but that would exclude players going into or coming out of their senior year or, for some, their freshmen year of college.

“It was the first league I saw that would allow our older kids to still play,” says Dix. “You don’t want to tell our kids they don’t have anything to do in the summer. That’s not the world’s greatest idea. They’ll find something to do that none of us would enjoy.”

Having organized baseball gives these young men a positive outlet.

“One of the things that scares me the most is when they go away to college and they have to come back here,” says Dix. “They’ve spent eight or nine months away from the situation, bettering their lives, and they have to come back here and they don’t have the structure they had when they were at school.”

Scott, a St. Louis native married to a local gal, played at Ball State University and then eight seasons in the minors, making it to Triple-A in the Marlins organization. He began coaching with Bradley last season at Bowman.

“We found a gem when they put us together,” says Bradley of Scott. “We have coaches here with the knowledge to teach. We’ve got a great group of kids. They are receptive to all of us.”

The coaches try to keep the communication at a high level. Bradley, Dix and Scott might all be saying the same thing but in different ways. If players are not grasping what they are being taught, they are encouraged to ask for an explanation from a coach they can best understand.

“You learn that every kid is different,” says Bradley. “I may have to find a new way to show this kid how to field this ground ball.”

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Bowman Academy’s baseball team pauses during practice Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at Roosevelt Park in Gary. The Eagles are (from left): head coach Kevin Bradley, Aaron Whittaker, Kiondre Pippins, Joseph Moore, Langston Stalling, Devin Russell, Jordan Adams, Antonio Price, Martrell Dixon and assistant coach Ray Dix III. Not pictured: assistant coach Lorenzo Scott, Zavion Brown, Ezekiel Sankey, Deysean Jenkins, Darreall Payne and Charles Thompson III. (Steve Krah Photo)

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is important at Silver Creek High School.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe makes sure his high school players count their blessings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The idea is to stop the feature of failure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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