After a one-year hiatus, Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League’s premier event is scheduled to return in 2022. A non-profit organization organized in 1993 with more than 200 members, including Don Mattingly, Bob Griese, Andy Benes, Jamey Carroll, Clint Barmes, Marty Amsler, Evansville area high school and college baseball and softball coaches, area businessmen and community leaders, Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League provides financial assistance to youth organizations in baseball, softball, soccer, football, wrestling, basketball and youth ministry athletics. Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League has distributed more than $2 million to over 100 youth organizations and a partial four-year college scholarship has been given for at least one area high school senior who has shown himself to be an outstanding athlete, student and citizen. The primary fundraiser is the “Night of Memories.” It is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022 at the Carson Center on the campus of the University of Evansville. Featured guests include National Baseball Hall of Famer Rich “Goose” Gossage, former big league outfielder Andruw Jones, hometown favorites Benes, Aaron Barrett and Jerad Eickhoff, Evansville Reitz graduate and New York Yankees prospect Elijah Dunham and 2021 Southridge High School graduate and Chicago White Sox draft selection Colson Montgomery.Wayne Hagin will serve as emcee. Former University of Evansville head baseball coach Jim Brownlee will receive a Legend Award. An autograph session is from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Central Time and open to all ages. Children 12-and-under are admitted free but must be accompanied by an adult with a paid admission and autograph purchase. All items to be signed require autograph ticket (not available online, only sold at the door). Pricing per autograph varies by guest and will be posted at hotstoveleague.org when available. A separate chat session and auction for guests 21-and-older is slated in the Meeks Family Fieldhouse. Doors open at 5 with welcome/introductions at 6:15, presentation of awards at 6:30, chat session at 6:45 and live auction at 7:45. Admission to the main event is $25 per person. Admission tickets purchased for the autograph session will also grant entry into the main event as long as the guest is 21 or older. A golf outing was held in September at Cambridge Golf Club in Evansville which funds the Bob Coleman-Joe Unfried Scholarship Award. Recent winners include Henry Brown (Evansville Central High School and Indiana State University) in 2021, Adam Euler (Evansville Reitz High School and University of Evansville) in 2020, Cory Bosecker (Evansville Central High School and Butler University) in 2019 and Zach Messinger (Castle High School and University of Virginia) in 2018. Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League officers are president Ryan Berger, vice presidents Eric Millay, Tracy Archuleta and Cory Edwards, treasurer Steve Millay, historian Dave Johnson and secretary Steve Johnston.
That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.
“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”
One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.
“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”
Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.
“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”
Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.
Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.
Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.
Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.
“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.
The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.
The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.
Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.
Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.
Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.
“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”
Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes.
Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.
“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.
“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”
The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights.
“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”
That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.
“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.
“They’re not selfish.”
Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.
Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.
“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.
“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”
Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.
Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.
Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.
“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players.
“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.
“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”
Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.
Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.
“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”
Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.
“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”
Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.
“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”
Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.
Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.
Turned from a starter to a reliever in his first professional season (2010), Barrett made the big league team out of 2014 spring training and appeared in 50 games and was 3-0 with a 2.66 earned run average, 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 40 2/3 innings while also pitching in 10 games and 10 innings at Triple-A Syracuse.
In 2015, Barrett made 40 MLB appearances and was 3-3 with a 4.60 ERA. He fanned 35 and walked seven in 29 innings, but landed on the 15-day disabled list with a right biceps strain in both June and August.
“I was pitching nearly everyday and I was in pain for two or three weeks before I went on the DL,” says Barrett, who was soon transferred to the 60-day list. “Being a reliever, throwing everyday is part of the grind.”
Along the way, it was discovered that Barrett had a 90-percent tear in his Ulnar Collateral Ligament and so he underwent the reconstruction then he had his next setback.
But Barrett, signed to a two-year contract by the Nationals to rehab, began throwing again last summer and has worked hard at the club’s training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla.
He now finds himself close to getting closer to the road back to the majors.
Barrett and other players rehabbing injuries have been competing in extended spring training camp games against other organizations along the Space Coast.
“I’m building arm strength and knocking the rust off,” says Barrett. “I hope to go north on a rehab assignment the next few weeks.”
Washington has full-season affiliates in Hagerstown (Low Single-A), Potomac (High Single-A), Harrisburg (Double-A) and Syracuse (Triple-A) and Barrett expects that his assignments will come as a progression.
Barrett — aka “The Bear” — has stayed connected to his buddies in the big leagues and watches the broadcast of nearly every Nationals game.
“I still have many close friends on the team, guys I came up in the farm system with,” says Barrett.
Barrett explains why he kept going back into the draft.
“The money was not enough for me to turn away from college,” says Barrett. “I wanted to finish my (liberal arts) degree (three minors — history, sociology and park and recreational management — equals a major). “Iwas a ninth-round senior. That’s pretty good. It all worked out.”
As a 13-year-old, Barrett was on a team that went to Nebraska and won a national championship. Among his teammates was Preston Mattingly, son of Don Mattingly and still one of Aaron’s best friends, and Adam Champion.
Preston Mattingly was a first-round MLB draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 and played in the minor until 2011.
Champion played four years at the University Arkansas-Little Rock and then two years in the minors and two in independent baseball.
Ryan Barrett, Aaron’s older brother, graduated form Evansville Central in 2003 and played shortstop for four years at the University of Evansville.
Younger brother Drew Barrett was a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley and two at Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.).
Two cousins — Evansville Central graduate Jason Barrett and Evansville Reitz Memorial graduate Zach Barrett — also went on college baseball — Jason at Ball State and Zach at Olney (Ill.) Central College and Middle Tennessee State University.
“Evansville is such a good baseball town,” says Barrett. “The state of Indiana doesn’t give it enough credit for how good of a baseball town it is.”
While working on the baseball field to make his hometown proud, Aaron is also spending quality time with wife Kendyl and 7-month-old daughter Kollyns.
Aaron Barrett, an Evansville native, is working to get back to the big leagues with the Washington Nationals after breaking his humerus while rehabbing from Tommy John elbow surgery. (Washington Nationals Photo)