Tag Archives: ABCA Hall of Fame

Huff helping Purdue Fort Wayne in different ways in second year with baseball program

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Huff has a new role in his second year on the Purdue Fort Wayne baseball coaching staff.
His family came to Fort Wayne when wife Jenna Huff — who hails from Tecumseh, Mich. — was hired as news director at WANE-TV (Ch. 15) and he reached out to Mastodons coach Doug Schreiber.
A director of player development position was created for Huff for 2020-21 with the idea that something else might open up in the future. In that job, he was restricted from actual coaching so he kept charts, gave analytics insights and helped in the dugout during games.
In 2021-22, Huff is in the volunteer coach post with all its responsibilities.
“Coach Schreiber has empowered me to do a lot of the practice scheduling,” says Huff. “I would make sure transitions were efficient.”
On a staff that also features Brent McNeil and Ken Jones, Huff also helps with hitters and infielders, leads outfielders and is expected to coach first base when PFW — a member of the NCAA Division I Horizon League — opens its 2022 season Feb. 18 at Georgia State.
“The challenge is we’re not on the field,” says Huff, noting that the Mastodons last practiced outdoors in November.
At the beginning of the fall, the team took advantage of warmer temperatures and put in 20 hours per week of team practice.
“(Hitters) got 50 to 60 (at-bats) and (pitchers) 20 to 22 innings,” says Huff. “You got to figure out exactly what you have. This year we’ve got 19 new guys so we saw how they fit with the returnees.
“There were intrasquad games in the weekends and got the players accustomed to our system and our routines.”
Then came a four hours-a-week phase where coaches could break down player’s mechanics and make adjustments if necessary.
“It’s not like going 0-of-4 in scrimmage,” says Huff. “There’s no failure.
“They’re getting their bodies ready to go and getting their timing down.”
Hitters were going to face live pitching for the first time Thursday (Jan. 20) with 20 hours-a-week workouts starting back up Jan. 28.
Huff came to Indiana from Gordon State College in Barnesville, Ga., where he was interim head coach during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season. With just one assistant, he was charged with all positions except infielders.
A shortstop as a player, Huff is a 2003 graduate of Westover High School in Albany, Ga.
Huff also played five years of American Legion ball for Albany Post 30 and manager Larry Cook. Albany went to the Legion World Series in 2001 — the year Brooklawn (N.J.) Post 72 beat Lewiston (Idaho) Post 13 for the title in Yakima, Wash.
“He was a very strategic guy and super-competitive,” says Huff of Cook. “He never stopped coaching me. He challenged me and made me better.”
Huff made collegiate stops of two years at Darton College in Albany (now merged with Albany State University) and one each at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., and Valdosta (Ga.) State University. His head coaches were Glenn Eames (with assistant Jamie Corr) at Darton, American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary Gilmore (with assistant Kevin Schnall) at Coastal Carolina and National College Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Thomas at Valdosta State.
Huff credits Eames for showing him how to care for fields and Corr for his organization, practice plan and how to run a program.
At Darton, Huff played against Young Harris (Ga.) College featuring his cousin Charlie Blackmon. After playing for the Mountain Lions in 2005 and 2006, lefty-swinging outfielder Blackmon was selected in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech and made his MLB debut for the Colorado Rockies in 2011.
Gilmore led the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers to the 2016 College World Series title.
“(Gilmore and Schnall) are two of the best coaches in the country,” says Huff. “I sat and watched how they were planning out the game and their style of offense that really helped me down the road.”
An offensive-minded coach, Huff prefers aggressiveness and small ball tactics.
When Huff was on the team at Coastal Carolina, he was a teammate of Andy DeLaGarza, a product of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind. His father — Mark DeLaGarza — runs the Summit City Sluggers travel organization in Fort Wayne.
From Thomas, Huff says he learned how to care about players and build relationships.
Former big leaguer Phil Plantier was Huff’s manager with the independent South Coast League’s Macon (Ga.) Music in 2007 and witnessed the differences between the pro and college style.
“I worked with him on hitting stuff,” says Huff. “I wanted to pick his brain as much as I could.”
When he was done as a player, Huff went into the banking industry while completing his undergraduate and Masters of Business Administration degrees.
He helped coach at Deerfield-Windsor Academy in Albany and with Leesburg American Legion Post 182 before spending five years at Darton with head coach Scot Hemmings. The Cavaliers won their first Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association title in 2015.
“He had ways to motivate players and was very organized,” says Huff of Hemmings. “The development of players was incredible there.”
When Jenna took a job at station in Macon, Justin helped coach the varsity and was middle school head coach at Tattnall Square Academy. The Trojans won the 2016 Georgia High School Athletic Association Class A state championship.
Travis McClanahan was head coach when Huff joined the staff at Gordon State. The Highlanders went 50-9 and lost to Walters State in the National Junior College Athletic Association East-Central District in 2019.
Justin and Jenna Huff have been married for 10 years and have four daughters — Devon (8), Canon (6), Fallon (4) and Lennon (2).

Justin Huff (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Brownlee makes diamond impact at Evansville, Illinois State, more

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Brownlee built a long, successful baseball coaching career on the principles of fundamentals and discipline.
Now 76, retired and living with wife of 51 years — Candy — in Gulf Breeze in the Florida Panhandle (the couple moved there in April 2021), Brownlee can look back on a run that includes 23 seasons as head coach at the University of Evansville (1980-2002), seven seasons at Illinois State University (2003-09) and one season as University of Iowa pitching coach (2013). He was also a longtime basketball official.
“I learned the game of baseball from my college baseball coach Duffy Bass,” says Brownlee of the former Illinois State University head coach and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He was about as good at fundamentals of anybody I’ve been around — whether it was catching, hitting, bunting or pitching. I kind of patterned myself after him.”
A 1963 graduate of Antioch (Ill.) Community High School, Brownlee played for Bass at Illinois State from 1967-70 and was a teammate of future major league pitcher Buzz Capra. The 1969 Collegiate Division National champions went 33-5 and ran the table in the postseason.
“I learned the running game at a very young age,” says Brownlee. “We were very aggressive at Evansville. One year we had 202 stolen bases.
“I had lesser talent at Evansville. We didn’t have the full amount of scholarships. We had guys we thought would get better and they did. We had guys never drafted out of high school that were drafted out of college.
“I think college baseball has always been that way. (Development’s) at an all-time high. But we’re still behind the 8-ball with scholarships and dates. It used to be we had 120 games between fall and spring (at the NCAA D-I level and now it’s 56 games in the spring with 11.7 scholarships for a roster of 35).
“College baseball keeps growing. It’s become a money-maker.”
That money is bound to go even higher if the season was moved into the warmer months.
Says Brownlee, “40 years ago I proposed we play in the summer.”
Brownlee was “hard-nosed” as a coach.
“Discipline is important to me as a retired Marine,” says Brownlee.
After his playing days ended and having served a stint with the U.S. Marines, Brownlee became an assistant baseball coach at Illinois State (1975-76) and was as head coach for the Galesburg Pioneers in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (which later merged with the Prospect League), where he encountered Bloomington Bobcats pitcher Tim Stoddard. The 6-foot-7 right-hander from East Chicago, Ind., was on his way to an MLB career and is now an assistant coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.
Before UE, Brownlee coached at Princeton (Ill.) High School (1976-79).
As Evansville coach, Brownlee won 701 games with four 40-win seasons and seven conference coach of the year honors.
Among his players were future big leaguers Sal Fasano, Andy Benes and Jamey Carroll and Purple Aces head coach Wes Carroll. Benes and the Carroll brothers are Pocket City natives.
The Purple Aces have retired Brownlee’s No. 6 and Benes’ No. 30.
Brownlee has been inducted into the Illinois State University Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the Redbirds’ ’69 national champions, the University of Evansville Athletics Hall of Fame, the Lake County (Ill.) High Schools Sports Hall of Fame, the Bloomington-Normal Officials Association Wayne Meece Hall of Fame and is slated to go into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame in Evansville in May.
A founding member of the Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League, that group will honor Brownlee with its Legends Award Jan. 15.
Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League supports amateur athletics around the Evansville area. It started as an effort to save Bosse Field, which was established in 1915 and for years was the home to high school baseball and football, American Legion baseball and the Triple-A Evansville Triplets before affiliated pro ball left town.
The stadium, which now houses the independent pro Evansville Otters and was host to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 2021, looked to be condemned and torn down back in the ‘80s.
That’s when Brownlee — who had his UE teams playing home games there at the time — got together with former minor league relief pitcher and manager “Singin’ Ed” Nottle and Evansville Central High School coach Paul Gries and brought in folks like Indiana, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer and Rex Mundi High School graduate Bob Griese, former MLB all-star and Evansville Memorial alum Don Mattingly and former big league pitcher and Evansville Central High grad Benes to help raise funds.
Since then, not only has Bosse Field been saved but local high school and college fields have been upgraded.
“It’s about facilities and making it better and showing it’s an important sport,” says Brownlee.
UE now plays on turf at German American Bank at Charles H. Braun Stadium.
“It was a labor of love for all of us,” says Brownlee. “I’m really proud of what we’ve built with the baseball community there.”
Brownlee had both his sons — Tim and Ryan — as UE players and then coached with both of them.
Tim Brownlee was also on the Illinois State staff and employed his father for a decade with his Normal, Ill.-based baseball tournament company — Diamond Sports Promotions. Between Evansville and ISU, Tim assisted his father for 17 seasons.
Ryan Brownlee was an assistant at Evansville (1998-99), James Madison University (2000-03) and Iowa (2004-12) and head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) and is now Assistant Executive Director and weekly podcast host for the Greensboro, N.C.- based ABCA. The ABCA Convention is Jan. 6-9 in Chicago. He plans to appear at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 14-16 in Indianapolis. Jamey Carroll is to go into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame Jan. 15.

Jim Brownlee (University of Evansville Photo)

Brantley promotes total student-athlete experience at Indiana University Kokomo

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Just over a month after being named head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo, Drew Brantley is busy laying the foundation for the Cougars system.
Classes began Aug. 23. Brantley is overseeing two weeks of open field workouts before fall practice officially begins Labor Day (Sept. 6). There will be sessions six days a week for eight weeks culminating Oct. 30. Then the NAIA member Cougars move into the weight room and begin the build-up to the spring. There will be no games against outside competition this fall. There will be three scrimmages per week at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
“It’ll be heavy on individual development as a baseball player,” says Brantley. “We’ll compete in a game-like situations.”
As the Cougars ready themselves for the River States Conference race, they will open the 2022 season with trips to play Louisiana State University Shreveport and Truett McConnelll University (Cleveland, Ga.).
Brantley, who has been on staff the past three seasons including the last two as associate head coach, knows what he desires in an IU Kokomo player.
“I want to get good people into the program,” says Brantley, who turned 29 on Aug. 22. “We want them to have the total student-athlete experience — athletically, academically and socially.”
The idea is to achieve on the field and in the classroom and build friendships and contacts that will last long beyond the college years.
Brantley’s staff includes Jeremy Honaker, Nick Floyd and Justin Reed. Honaker, who was volunteer assistant at the University of Indianapolis in 2020-21, will serve as a positional coach and also help with hitting and baserunning. Former Ball State University and independent professional right-hander Floyd is the Cougars’ pitching coach. Former IU Kokomo player Reed is a graduate assistant and assistant pitching coach. He will work toward his Masters of Business Administration, help in athletic communications and with the baseball team.
Prior to coming to IUK to serve on head coach Matt Howard’s staff, Brantley was an assistant to head coach Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University.
“I worked with infielders and baserunners and assisted with hitters,” says Brantley. “My time at Indiana Wesleyan was awesome. The integrity of the program is held very highly there. I learned how you hold people accountable and how things are supposed to be done.”
Brantley assisted at his alma mater Anderson (Ind.) University for five seasons with a stint as interim coach. Medical issues mean that he was only able to play his freshmen season for David Pressley before becoming a student assistant.
“He was an awesome guy and a great role model,” says Brantley of Pressley, who followed American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon as the man in charge at AU. “A large part of my coaching philosophy comes from (Anderson).”
Dustin Glant later took over a Anderson Ravens head coach and was helped by Brantley.
“I was able to learn a lot under Dustin,” says Brantley. “He showed me the ropes and what its like to conduct yourself professionally. It’s not just about baseball.
“A lot of the success I’ve had has been because of the things he’s showed me and the advice he’s given me.”
Glant is now pitching coach at Indiana University.
At 22, Brantley was named interim coach at Anderson, where he earned his Secondary Education and Teaching degree in 2015 and MBA in 2017.
Says Brantley, “Everyday I was doing the best I knew how.”
The same applies in his current position.
“It’s pretty neat being in this seat,” says Brantley, who guides a program in the town where he was born.
Brantley grew up in Russiaville, Ind., and played T-ball through age 12 at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League. After that came travel ball with the Central Indiana Kings then three summers with Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6.
His coach at Western High School in Russiaville was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Ty Calloway.
After becoming a coach himself, Brantley came to learn how Calloway “coached ‘em up the right way.”
“As a player, he held us to a really high standard,” says Brantley. “He was always on us in practice. Whatever we were doing that day we were going to give our best effort.”
Brantley played three seasons for the Panthers, sitting out his junior year to recuperate from cardiac arrest. In his senior year of 2011, he was an IHSBCA Class 3A first-team all-state second baseman.
“I have an incredible support system,” says Drew, who is the son of Chrysler employee Ron and dental receptionist Angie and younger brother of Alaina. Ron Brantley has been coaching baseball since he was 20 and will help out this fall at IU Kokomo.
Brantley’s first experience as a baseball coach came with a Howard County travel team called the Indiana Flyers. He was with that team from the fall of 2012 through the summer of 2015.
There was also a stint working for Chris Estep as a hitting and defensive instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind.
“He gave me an opportunity to work with younger kids and allowed me to fail a lot,” says Brantley. “Being at RoundTripper was awesome.”

Drew Brantley (Indiana University Kokomo Photo)

NCAA Baseball Committee just one of many roles for Indiana State AD Clinkscales

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

All the hats that Sherard Clinkscales has donned thus far — many of the baseball variety — have helped him to his current role as athletic director at Indiana State University.
The former baseball and basketball player at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis and Purdue University went on to play and scout in professional baseball and coach in the college ranks before going into athletic administration. He was hired by then-ISU president Dr. Daniel Bradley to lead the Sycamores in February 2016 and now serves for current president Deborah J. Curtis.
Missouri Valley Conference member Indiana State fields baseball, basketball, cross country, football and track and field teams for men plus basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, track and field and volleyball teams for women.
Two weeks ago Clinkscales, 51, was named to the NCAA Baseball Committee. As the 2022 Division I season gets closer to the postseason, the committee will meet to discuss the teams that are trending up or down and then determine the top seeds. Committee members will become regional and super regional directors and serve as team administrators at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“We’ll make sure their experience is top notch,” says Clinkscales.
In 2021, Indiana State went 31-21 and played in the Nashville Regional. It was the eighth season for ISU alum Mitch Hannahs as Sycamores head coach.
While they never competed against one another, Clinkscale’s relationship with Hannahs goes way back.
“I know Mitch well,” says Clinkscales. “He’s a good man that I respect immensely. He’s one of the best coaches in the country.”
Clinkscales says Hannahs’ success stems from his understanding of players and an intuitiveness as a tactician.
“He has a knack for getting the best out of players and knows when to push them and when not to,” says Clinkscales. “He’s an excellent recruiter and finds guys that fit his system.
“He genuinely cares about his young men. He’s authentic. You always know where you stand with Mitch.”
While Indiana State is a northern school and — in football terms — is not in a power five conference, Sycamores baseball has long been competitive on a national level.
“That starts with Coach (Bob) Warn,” says Clinkscales of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer whose name is on the ISU baseball field. “I grew up in the ‘80s and Indiana State was the best program in the state of Indiana.
“Mitch was a part of that and he has taken that even further. Indiana State is just a wonderful institution. We get kids that love the game of baseball, love to play it and love to learn it.”
Clinkscales says generations of parents have come to understand the toughness that it takes to play in Terre Haute.
“They’re more than happy to send their kids to play for a man like Mitch,” says Clinkscales. “They know what they’re getting.”
A standout basketball player for Mike Miller, Clinkscales began getting noticed at the college level for his baseball skills with Brebeuf’s summer team.
“I was always a good athlete,” says Clinkscales, a 1989 Brebeuf graduate. “I played baseball because it was fun.”
The baseball Braves were coached by Kevin Stephenson.
“Coach was outstanding,” says Clinkscales of Stephenson. “He was a really good guy who stuck with me.”
At Purdue, Clinkscales played one season (1989-90) as a walk-on guard for Boilermakers head basketball coach Gene Keady and three springs for head baseball coach Dave Alexander (1990-92).
“(Keady and Alexander) stuck by me when I struggled,” says Clinkscales. “I owe everything to where I am today to Dave Alexander. Dave took a chance on me.
“He was tough, authentic and honest. Coach definitely cared about me and got the most out of me.”
The relationship continued a few years after his playing days when Clinkscales and Alexander were scouts in the same Midwest territories.
Right-handed pitcher Clinkscales was a “sandwich” round pick of the Kansas City Royals in the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (31st overall selection) and played for the 1992 Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, 1993 and 1994 Rockford (Ill.) Royals and 1994 Gulf Coast (Fla.) Royals.
What did Clinkscales appreciate most about being a player?
“The camaraderie and going to the ball park to spend time with buddies,” says Clinkscales. “Baseball is such a team sport. You’re getting to know guys (from diverse backgrounds).”
After being released by the Royals, Clinkscales went to extended spring training with the Chicago Cubs in 1995 then decided to pursue scouting and other ventures.
Clinkscales was an area scouting supervisor of the Atlanta Braves 1997-99, assistant director of scouting for the Tampa Bay Rays 1999-2001 then a professional and amateur scout for the Braves 2001-06. He was also founder and president of Indianapolis-based AfterSport Group, a consulting firm for high school, college and professional athletic communities.
“I absolutely loved it,” says Clinkscales of scouting. “It was one of the thrills of my life.”
He relished identifying potential big leaguers through observation. Baseball was not so analytics and stats-driven at that time.
“I was able to get to know the player,” says Clinkscales. “Make-up is everything. You have to be a tough son of a gun to play Major League Baseball. Only the strong survive.
“It comes down to toughness, luck, consistency and being in the right place at the right time.”
Then came the opportunity be pitching coach for head coach Dave Schrage at the University of Notre Dame for three seasons (2007-09).
“I’m grateful for the chance he took on a guy who’d never coached before,” says Clinkscales of Schrage, now head coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. “He saw the positive things. He knows the game inside and out.”
Clinkscales learned how difficult coaching can be.
“It’s hard,” says Clinkscales. “You have to really love coaching. It all starts with leadership. You have to work together as a team and assistants have to do their jobs well.
“It takes a special person to be a coach.”
Clinkscales equates coach with teacher.
“To get the most out of a young man that doesn’t know how much he has is a gift,” says Clinkscales, who has gotten to interview and hire many coaches in his AD role.
Clinkscales was Assistant Director of Championships for the NCAA in Indianapolis 2009-11 and Senior Associate Athletic Director at North Carolina State University 2011-16 — serving on the staff of Wolfpack AD Debbie Yow.
A holder of a History degree from Purdue in 1994, Clinkscales completed a masters in Sports Management from North Carolina State in 2016.
The fall semester at ISU begins Aug. 18 and young people are now back on the campus.
“I enjoy the student-athletes,” says Clinkscales. “It’s the purity that I really enjoy. They are students first and achieving in the classroom and on the field.
“You build relationships with students and coaches. They get kids to execute and learn how to deal with the losses. I’m working with a staff that loves doing what I’m doing. They work hard and pick each other up.
“I thank God I have the opportunity to be an athletic director.”
Clinkscales has two children — North Carolina Wesleyan University graduate Alex Clinkscales and Carnegie Mellon University graduate Tara Clinkscales. Sherard and second wife Monica reside in Terre Haute.

Sherard Clinkscales (Indiana State University Photo)

Marker looking to make mark with Seton Catholic Cardinals

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Marker made a mark on the record books as a college pitcher.

Decades later, he is looking to have an impact as first-year head baseball coach at tiny Seton Catholic School in Richmond, Ind.

The Cardinals are in the IHSAA Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional at Don McBride Stadium this week. Among the 14 on Seton Catholic’s roster is senior right-handed pitcher/second baseman/third baseman and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District H Player of the Year Luke Leverton (a Miami of Ohio commit). 

“Last year we didn’t get to play,” says Marker. “We’re very young this year.”

Louie Falcone, a Seton Catholic graduate, was a freshman on the baseball team at Hanover (Ind.) College this spring.

Seton Catholic (enrollment around 90) wrapped the 2021 regular season with a 7-6 win against Union County. Patriots head coach Jordan Ashbrook, a former Richmond assistant, helped get the game moved to Day Air Ballpark — home of the High-A Central League’s Dayton (Ohio) Dragons.

The Cardinals are a member of the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Central Christian Academy, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Park Tudor and University). Each baseball-playing league team sees each other one time.

The Seton Catholic Sectional also includes Blue River Valley, Cambridge City Lincoln, Randolph Southern, Tri and Union City. The Cardinals have won three sectional titles — the last in 2014.

Seton Catholic, which has three buildings in downtown Richmond (elementary, middle school and high school), has added a middle school baseball program of grades 6-8 in 2021.

“There’s work to be done to grow the program,” says Marker.

Marker, who teaches K-5 physical education at Test Intermediate School and is in his 23rd years in Richmond Community Schools, was a baseball assistant to Shawn Turner for four seasons (2016-19) at Richmond High after 10 seasons as assistant to Red Devils softball coach Kyle Ingram. His assistants at Seton Catholic are Ingram, Robert Cornell and Brice Brown. 

A few summers back, Marker coached for the Midwest Astros travel baseball organization.

A graduate of Randolph Southern Junior/Senior High School in Lynn, Ind., where father Larry was a longtime athletic director, Marker played for the Rebels and for the John Lebo-managed Richmond Post 65 state runner-up team.

Marker walked on at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). 

From 1984-88, Marker went and went 27-10 in 63 mound appearances for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon.

“He never recruited me,” says Marker. “But he redshirted me and taught me how to pitch.”

Marker also spent two summers with the Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals in the Valley League learning from Gary Gilmore, who went on to coach Coastal Carolina University to the College World Series title in 2016.

“I’ve had some pretty good coaches who took me under my wing,” says Marker.

It was in March 1986 while Marker was away playing baseball that his hometown was rocked by a tornado.

“That was before cellphones,” says Marker. “For three days, I did not get ahold of mom and dad.”

When he got back to Lynn, his parents were fine.

After college, Marker had a few professional tryouts and hurt his arm. He played for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets and in fast pitch softball with K&G Sporting Goods (Seymour) and New Construction (Shelbyville).

Marker also teaches summer school P.E., umpires church league softball and likes to run haunted houses.

Dave Marker

Ivy Tech’s Schilling raises expectations with lower arm angle

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ian Schilling didn’t do much pitching until his senior season at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis in 2018.

Usually a second baseman, Schilling came straight over the top when he was on the mound.

Schilling was recruited to Ivy Tech Northeast — a junior college program in Fort Wayne, Ind. — as a two-way player. But the Titans had plenty of talented middle infielders and he wasn’t getting much velocity on the hill.

“I was at 83 or 84 mph on a good day,” says Schilling. “I was struggling.”

Since he had grown up as a second sacker and dropping his arm down came naturally, Ivy Tech head coach Lance Hershberger suggested he pitch with a lower arm angle.

“The ball was moving more than ever and I was throwing strikes,” says Schilling. “It just worked out for me.”

Becoming a “sidewinder” or “submariner” did not give Schilling a big velo jump, but it did make him effective.

As a “Corona” sophomore in 2021, the right-hander was 3-1 with one save, 41 strikeouts and just two walks in his first 37 innings (12 appearances with four starts). His earned run average was 4.38.

“I pitch to contact guy until I get to two strikes,” says Schilling. “You have to have conviction with every one of your pitches.

“You can’t be afraid to attack the zone.”

Schilling throws a two-seam fastball with sinking action.

“It breaks down hard and to the right,” says Schilling. “My slider has a lot of late break. I start on the third base side of the rubber and it slides away from righties or jams lefties. 

“My ‘circle’ change-up has almost a 12-to-6 action. It’s like a curveball but from a submarine pitcher.”

While Schilling is mostly self-taught, he does credit former Tech sidearmer Zach Haefer (an East Noble High School graduate now at Davenport University) with help from Hershberger, former Ivy Tech and current Indiana Tech assistant Seth Sorenson as well as Mark Fluekiger.

Schilling graduated from Ivy Tech last semester with a general studies degree is enjoying the life of a “juco bandit” before heading to Lebanon, Tenn., to join the successful baseball program at Cumberland University (the Phoenix are three-time NAIA national champions (2004, 2010 and 2014) and national runners-up (1995, 2006) with 12 NAIA World Series appearances).

“To me a juco bandit is someone who is already hardened,” says Schilling. “It’s somebody who is tough, loves baseball and is a true competitor.”

Those are qualities embraced by diamond veteran Hershberger.

“The way Coach Hershberger coaches is not for everybody,” says Schilling. “He looks at championships things like making your bed, polishing your cleats and running on and off the field.

“He will push you to your competitive edge. He wants to unlock that potential in you.

“I want to give a huge thank you to Coach Hershberger. He has let me compete and pushed me to a limit I never thought I had.

“Winning is fun. Being successful is fun. That transfers to real life.”

Born in Indianapolis and raised on the west side to David and Melissa Schilling (who divorced when Ian was young), he played at Ben Davis Little League from grades K-6 and then in recreational leagues until high school summers in travel ball with the Indiana Eagles and Indiana Bruins.

After spending the summers of 2019 and 2020 with the Portland Rockets, the righty expects to spend much of this summer adding strength and possibly weight to his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame. 

Schilling, who has four older sisters (Sara, Nikki, Ashley and Savannah) and a younger brother (Landon), was on varsity at Ben Davis High for two years for Giants head coach David Bear.

He vividly recalls his last time on the field with Bear.

“We just lost the (Ben Davis) Sectional championship game and I had teary eyes,” says Schilling. “He said, ‘You’re going to be OK, kid. You’ve got a future.’”

That future likely includes pursuing a Business Management major at Cumberland and playing for Ryan Hunt, who is to take over the Phoenix from father and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Woody Hunt who plans to retire at the end of 2021 after 43 seasons (41 as head coach).

Ivy Tech’s Ian Schilling pitches against Vincennes U.
Ian Schilling has adopted a sidearm/submarine pitching style. The 2018 graduate of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis a “Corona sophomore” at is an Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2021 and is committed to study and play baseball at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn. (Ivy Tech Photo)

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Indiana Tech’s McWilliams shares championship practice drills

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kip McWilliams and his Indiana Tech baseball team attack practice.

“We always have our practices at fast pace,” says McWilliams, who spoke Dec. 15 at the free Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger. “It’s uptempo.

“It’s controlled chaos. It’s a mess. But we love it and our guys get so much out of it.”

The goal for Tech is to play a nine-inning game in two hours.

“We don’t throw the ball around the horn,” says McWilliams. “We strike a guy out and the ball is right back to the pitcher.

“We want to really play that fast pace. Why? Because the game of baseball is not supposed to be played that fast.

“If that is an advantage to us over our opponents, so be it. That’s great.”

Tech, which is located in Fort Wayne and went to the NAIA World Series in 2019, has a varsity and developmental teams. That’s 65 players.

McWilliams has them all working out as a group.

“I’m a firm believer in having everybody practice together,” says McWilliams. “I know that sounds like a nightmare for some high school coaches. You can get so much out of your practices.

“Younger players learn your systems for their four years.”

While he sees the benefit of individual work, McWilliams loves to do team drills and he shared some of those with the Hot Stove.

The tone is set at the beginning. While the old Green Bay Packers ran on “Lombardi Time” and being on time was late, the Warriors run on “Indiana Tech Time.”

“If practice is at 3, we’re stretching at 2:45,” says McWilliams. During that time, a “quote of the day” is shared. There is discussion of the program’s core values or standards.

Seniors will present a word of the day, telling their teammates what it means to them and maybe the Webster’s Dictionary definition and how the team and coaches can use that word to jell together.

“It’s so important that the guys get a great stretch,” says McWilliams. “It’s also important for the coaching staff to be out there when the team is stretching.”

Tech gets all 65 players in a big circle and center field and McWilliams addresses each one of them daily.

“I don’t want a day to go by that I don’t say anything to or greet one of my guys,” says McWilliams. “I think that’s so important.”

There’s a no-walking rule for the Warriors.

“That includes me,” says McWilliams. “If we expect our guys to hustle all the time on the field, then I need to hustle all the time on the field.

“If I see them walking, I hold them accountable. If they see my coaching staff or me walking, they hold me accountable. We’re all at the same level there.”

After stretching comes the throwing routine. The Warriors go through championship level catch with each position having a specific focus like infielders working on quick hands etc.

Then comes the four corners drill.

“I know it’s something they’ve been doing from Little League on up,” says McWilliams. “That is a great drill. Keep doing it.”

McWilliams once attended at practice at Spring Arbor University when American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Sam Riggleman was the head coach.

“He flat out told me, ‘Kip, this is the reason why we’re always top five in the country defensively,’” says McWilliams of Riggleman’s devotion to four corners. “It’s not just the throwing and catching of the four corners, it’s the communication. That’s key.

“In baseball, there are so many plays that are made when we’re actually fielding a ground ball or catching a fly ball when we take our eyes off the target.”

McWilliams uses an example from his family life. Kip and Melissa welcomed a baby into their lives five years ago.

When Ava was a baby, Melissa would talk softly to her through the baby monitor to calm her at night.

“Ava’s in the dark but she hears a very comfortable voice,” says McWilliams. “What happens if you’ve got a shortstop who fields that ball in the hole and he doesn’t know exactly where the first base bag is? He knows it’s over it that direction.

“But he’s hearing a comforting voice. ‘Hit me in the chest! Hit me in the chest!’ Or even a third baseman saying, ‘Hit Rich in the chest! Hit Rich in the chest!’”

McWilliams says communication can help when a ball is bobbled.

“Everyone on the field is yelling you’ve got time ‘You’ve got time!,” says McWilliams. “Because everybody panics. They grab it and just throw it and now it becomes another error.”

Then Tech practices its pre-game routine aka I/O (“In and Out”).

“Our ‘In and Out’ is pretty unique,” says McWilliams, noting that teams are allowed 10 minutes for I/O during the NAIA postseason. “We like to get it in about nine minutes. We’ve got two guys deep at every position. We’ll hammer it out to the point that just about every play in baseball is done during our pre-game. It’s a workout for the coaches.”

Every fungo is struck from home plate. Coaches don’t go out in the grass. They try to hit line drives and fly balls to the outfielders, but if it’s a ground ball infielders are supposed to lay out for it.

“That sets a tone and it sends a statement to your opponents before the game,” says McWilliams.

A few times a season, McWilliams finds himself asking the same question of new players: Could you have gotten that ball if you dove for it?

“Before they can give me an answer, I say we’ll never know because you didn’t dive,” says McWilliams.

Tech allows finishes a team drill with a game-winner.

“That helps guys get fired up a little bit,” says McWilliams. “If they don’t execute it — guess what? — we’ve got to keep doing it.”

I/O typically ends with a pop-up to the catcher and all players come in an make that catch together.

At the end of practice, the very last play will be a championship game-winner and that is followed with a hand shake line for players and coaches.

Drills are called by specific names so it’s easier to set up.

“The Difference” is a bunting drill. About seven years ago, it was added to the practice rotation because the Warriors lacked in its ability to bunt or field a bunt.

It covers bunting, base running and defense.

Bunters are asked to execute a bunt for a hit, a drag bunt or a push bunt on the first live pitch. If the first pitch is not a strike, the second pitch becomes a suicide squeeze.

Foul balls are played like a passed ball or wild pitch. Runners are super-aggressive on the base paths.

“We really put that pressure on that defense,” says McWilliams.

Tech doesn’t have regular batting practice on the field. They call it “Thundering Buffalo.”

Because 65 players on the field running through BP resembles as heard of thundering buffalo.

Hitters are split into small groups to work on specific things while getting a max of 60 balls in a crate per round and a max of five swings per at-bat.

“We want to focus on hitting the ball hard,” says McWilliams. “If they don’t hit the ball hard they’re out of the cage. It could be your first swing.

“As a coach, you’ve got to enjoy kicking them out of the cage. What do most young people struggle with today in baseball? It’s game day. When adversity hits, they struggle with it.  As a coaching staff, it’s our responsibility to give them as many adverse situations as possible in practice to prepare them for that game.”

At Tech, practices are supposed to be lot tougher than games.

Base running during “Thundering Buffalo” involves working on various things like the hit-and-run, steal jump etc. That includes “don’t be silly” or get caught breaking from second at the wrong time on a ground ball and being thrown out.

“We’re very big with our communication with our base runners at third and second,” says McWilliams. “Too may times I see base runners at second run the runner off at third. The runner at second has no idea when the runner at third is going.”

The runners will work on leads and when they’re going like on-contact with the infield in.

If runners reach first, the defense turns two.

With coaches throwing live BP, pitchers take a knee behind the “L” screen with a ball in their glove. When a ball hits the screen, the pitchers turn two.

Infielders will work on looking the runner back and throwing the ball to first.

Outfielders will not play at a regular depth — either very shallow working on pop-up communication with the infielders and balls hit over their head or very deep to get more reps on balls off the wall or diving for balls in front of them.

“There’s nothing that’s ever really routine in the game of baseball,” says McWilliams. “Outfielders are gassed during Thundering Buffalo.”

Another reason for the fast pace is that when players are exhausted, the first thing that goes away is the mental side.

Practicing consistently at a fast pace allows for coachable moments when there is a mental or physical breakdown.

One important drill is relays and tandems where outfielders go to a specific location (foul line or gap) and throw the ball off the fence to start a relay sequence. All Tech outfielders do this and there are several reps.

“We’re one of the better teams in the country when it comes to tandems and relays,” says McWilliams. “We get so many assists every year from our outfield because we practice those tandems and relays non-stop.”

One way to get the infielders more involved in communication is for the catchers to put up a number — 2, 3, or 4 — and have the infielders yell out the call.

In the first and third defense and offense drill, players gain more confidence by going over the plays on a regular bases.

There are three offensive players — a batter and runners at first and third. The defense is set with every position covered. There is live pitching off the mound. Pitchers hold runners on first and are encouraged to try to pick them off.

At the end of practice, players “sweep the sheds.”

“One of the greatest things I got out of baseball as a player was my responsibility to the team for the field,” says McWilliams. “We’re teaching our guys a lot if we can teach them that responsibly at a younger age.”

The Huntington North Hot Stove series is scheduled to continue at 2-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22 and resume with sessions Jan. 12 and Jan. 19.

KIPMCWILLIAMS

Kip McWilliams is the head baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Indiana Tech Photo)

 

Indianapolis native Vittorio leading Wilmington Quakers with passion, energy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Vittorio is 53 and has been a college baseball coach for three decades.

It was as a teenager on the south side of Indianapolis that he decided that would be his path in life.

Vittorio grew up the youngest of three children at 2925 Anniston Drive, directly across the street from Southport Little League.

“We woke up to the sound of the crowd on Saturdays and Sundays,” says Vittorio. “That’s where the whole love of it came.”

At 15, Tony made the senior league all-stars coached by Jeff Mercer Sr. It was after his first practice with Mercer — then a player at Marian College in Indianapolis and later the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr.  — putting the all-stars through drills and game situations that Vittorio came home and exclaimed that coaching was for him.

“It was that one practice alone,” says Vittorio, who is heading into his second season as head coach at NCAA Division III Wilmington (Ohio) College, which is 35 miles southeast of Dayton.

Vittorio played for Richard Dwenger at Southport High School (Class of 1984) and Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College (Class of 1988).

“We we became close friends through the years,” says Vittorio of mentor Naylor. “I was honored and humbled to do his eulogy at his funeral.”

While playing for Naylor’s Panthers (then an NAIA program), Vittorio pursued a double major in business administration and physical education.

Vittorio spent the 1990 season as a volunteer/graduate assistant at Indiana University under Bob Morgan.

“I always thank Coach Morgan for teaching me how to practice properly,” says Vittorio. “His practice organization was second to no one in the country.”

At 23, Vittorio became a head coach at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and went on to become known as a builder of programs.

“We do not complain about what you don’t have,” says Vittorio. “We just grind it out.”

Vittorio led Lincoln Trail — a junior college — for four seasons. After winning 20 games the first season (1991), the Statesmen won 39, 40 and 45 contests. The year before Vittorio came to town the team won just two games.

That was followed by two years as an assistant to Keith Madison at the University of Kentucky.

“He is as good of a person as I’ve ever met in my life,” says Vittorio of Madison, an American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and National Baseball Director for SCORE International. “Coach Madison has this thing figured out — spiritually, mentally.”

Vittorio spent three seasons (1997-99) at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, when the Mastodons were NCAA Division II. His teams won 80 games after IPFW had gone 9-37 the year before he arrived in the Summit City.

Counting Lance Hershberger as one of his dearest friends, Vittorio looks back fondly on the Fort Wayne diamond rivalry they had when he was at IPFW and Hershberger (now at Ivy Tech Northeast) led Indiana Tech.

“He’s a beautiful person,” says Vittorio of Hershberger.

Vittorio began an 18-year run at the University of Dayton in 2000. The program was 22-34 the year before his arrival and went on to 10 seasons of at least 25 victories and seven of at least 30 with the 2009 club winning 38.

His NCAA Division I Flyers won 463 games altogether. the 2012 team participated in the NCAA College Station Regional.

Two pitchers who played for Vittorio at UD are now in the big leagues — right-hander Craig Stammen and left-hander Jerry Blevins.

Three of Vittorio’s former players at Dayton are now coaching at the D-I level. C.J. Gilman is now the top assistant at the Air Force Academy. Jimmy Roesinger, an Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate, is also on the Air Force staff. Jared Broughton, who went to Indianapolis Lutheran High School, is now an assistant at Clemson University.

Several other former Vittorio players and coaches are coaching are various levels.

After his days at Dayton, Vittorio helped coach his son (Nic Vittorio) in the summer with Dayton Thunderbirds, but was not really looking for another college job when Wilmington, a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference, came calling.

His first Quakers team went 8-29 in 2019 and he’s working toward steady improvement.

“I feel revised and amped up again to build a program at this level,” says Vittorio. “There’s a locker room word — culture. We’re looking to change the culture.

“That means implementing your own program of everyday core values — hard work, loyalty, hustle, sportsmanship and the biggest one — passion and energy on a daily basis. I’m a true believer you can’t go to where you want to go without passion and energy.”

Coming from the Division I world, Vittorio has learned to make adjustments in his approach.

Instead of 30 contact dates in the fall, D-III schools get 16. There are 40 regular-season games in the spring instead of 56. D-III does not offer athletic scholarships, but aid is based on academics and need.

“To me, that’s a lot of time lost,” says Vittorio. “But baseball is more pure (at the D-III level). You don’t have to hold the players’ hands on everything they do as you sometimes have to do in D-I.

“Players have a chance to develop leadership skills. They have to form captain/open field practices (when the coaching staff is away).”

Vittorio says the No. 1 job for he and his Wilmington assistants — Danny Thomas and former Richmond High School and Earlham College player Patrick Morrow — is recruiting.

“You can’t win without good players,” says Vittorio, who counts the Midwest as his recruiting base. “It’s more strenuous at this level. You have knock on 100 doors — instead of 50 doors — to get 10 guys.”

Vittorio spends a lot of his time raising money for the baseball program and as director of athletic development, the rest of Wilmington’s athletic department (which includes 18 varsity sports for men and women).

As a coach, He is also working to inspire his players in the classroom, the community and on the baseball field. He is emphasizing player development and building a quality college baseball atmosphere.

“We’re all obsessed with winning and losing,” says Vittorio. “But this whole thing is about making young men the best they can be.”

Vittorio comes back to Indianapolis often. Just last Saturday, he was at Southport Athletic Booster Club Reverse Raffle. He counts Indiana University head men’s basketball coach Archie Miller as a friend from Miller’s six seasons as head coach. Vittorio grew up as a fan of Bob Knight’s IU teams and Notre Dame football.

“That’s the Indiana Italian Catholic in me,” says Vittorio. “I love the state of Indiana. I’m a Hoosier.”

Wilmington visits Franklin College and Vittorio’s friend Lance Marshall at 3 p.m. on March 11.

Tony and Heather Vittorio have two children. Taylor Vittorio (21) is a former volleyball player at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. Nic Vittorio is a senior baseball player at Kettering-Fairmont High School in Kettering, Ohio.

TONYVITTORIOWILMINGTONCOLLEGE

Tony Vittorio, an Indianapolis native, is now the head baseball coach at Wilmington (Ohio) College. Prior to lead the Quakers, he was head coach at the University of Dayton, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and Lincoln Trail Community College. (Wilmington College Photo)

 

Jarrett establishing his system for Notre Dame baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Link Jarrett has spent this fall putting in his team system as the new head baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame.

Jarrett, who was named to the position July 12, is bringing his Fighting Irish to the end of its first phase of the fall. After this weekend comes a month that is more individual-oriented.

“You’ve got to have a way you do your fly-ball communication, bunt defense, first-and-third, cutoffs and relays, pickoffs and rundowns,” says Jarrett from the dugout at ND’s Frank Eck Stadium. “Those require the whole team. We wanted to make sure on the front of team practice that we implemented those things and the guys understood it.

“As you put those team concepts in play, you start learning your personnel a little bit. We’re very close to really understanding all of that, which I wanted to do by the end of this week.”

Notre Dame plays an exhibition game Saturday, Oct. 19 against NCAA Division II Southern Indiana at historic Bosse Field in Evansville. The game will benefit the fight against Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA), a degenerative neuromuscular disorder that affects one in 50,000 people in the U.S.

Sam Archuleta, son of USI head coach Tracy Archuleta, has FA.

Many pitchers are not throwing live right now and won’t make the trip to Evansville. Others will give Jarrett and his assistants (Rich Wallace, Chuck Ristano, Scott Wingo plus director of baseball operations Steve Rosen) a chance to see the program’s culture grow.

“You learn your guys as you are around them,” says Jarrett. “The No. 1 component is how we perform together out here (on the field).

“But getting to know the individuals and trying to figure out personalities and what buttons to push comes through being around them. It comes through time and working at your relationship with them.”

Jarrett sees the relationship with each athlete as an organic thing that grows naturally.

“Learning what they need as players and trying to help them individually, that also helps your relationship building because they know you’re in it for them and for the right reason,” says Jarrett. “We’re trying to find a way to make the team better and win more games. That’s the bottom line.”

The rest of the fall and winter will also include looking at potential recruits from current high school sophomores (Class of 2023) and buttoning up travel budgets and equipment details.

“Once you get back (from Christmas break) and start preseason practice, you really don’t come back up for air until June,” says Jarrett.

A native of Tallahassee, Fla., Jarrett played at Florida State University for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Martin for four seasons (1991-94 with all but 1993 being College World Series teams) and then five in the Colorado Rockies organization (1994-98).

Jarrett was an assistant coach at Flagler College (1999-2001), Florida State (2003), Mercer University (2004-05), East Carolina University (2006-09) and Auburn University (2010-12) before serving as head coach at the University of North Carolina Greensboro (2013-19).

Jarrett had an appreciation of Martin while playing and coaching for him and taps into that knowledge now.

“(Martin) gave me an opportunity because I can go on the field and function in his system. I could play the game,” says Jarrett. “I reflect on our (Florida State) teams and we were good, versatile baseball players. You can essentially keep yourself in most of the baseball games if you can pitch and play defense. It started there for us.

“(Martin) was a very good game tactician. I’d like to think I took some of that with me.

“You recognize when you’re around somebody who’s very special at what they do. I knew at one point that coaching was a possibility for me so I tried to soak in as much as I could.”

Jarrett says Martin had a knack for putting people in the right spot on the field, managing the game and putting guys on the mound who could function in college.

“It didn’t mean they had the best velocity or had the best draft potential necessarily,” says Jarrett. “But they were people he trusted to go out there and execute pitches and win college games with good baseball players behind them.

“That’s how we played. That’s how we won. I’m trying to do the same thing with our team here (at Notre Dame).

“We’ve got some arms that are experienced and talented. We have not played near good enough defense to compete consistently.

“You can look at the statistics and the ball in play wasn’t handled well here last year. We have to do better.”

As a former middle infielder, Jarrett tends to view the game through the lense of his shortstop and second baseman as well as his catcher and center fielder.

“I put a lot of pressure on our middle guys to run the game,” says Jarrett. “I expect that center fielder to run that entire outfield to take charge and lead.”

Jarrett is grateful to David Barnett (who has 952 career wins) for giving him his start in coaching. As athletic director and head baseball coach at Flagler, Barnett made Jarrett his first-ever full-time assistant and gave him plenty of responsibility with strength and conditioning to field maintenance.

“I learned how to run the entire operation,” says Jarrett. “He didn’t hire a coach. He gambled on hiring somebody who had some good experience as a player.

“(Barnett) taught me how to do some of the things you took for granted as a player. I’m very fortunate Dave gave me a chance to get into it at Flagler. Those were three great years in St. Augustine.”

After a season on Martin’s staff, Jarrett was hired by Craig Gibson at Mercer in Macon, Ga., where he was recruiting coordinator and helped with the field.

Randy Mazey brought Jarrett aboard at East Carolina in Greenville, N.C. But about a month into the job, Billy Godwin became his boss.

Jarrett describes Godwin as a hard-nosed baseball person.

“We worked very well together,” says Jarrett. “He’s a pitching coach by trade, but is adept at coaching a lot of different parts of the game.

“He gave me Gave me tremendous flexibility to do what I wanted to do with the offense and with the recruiting.

“In my four years, created a College World Series caliber team.”

After scouting for the New York Yankees, Godwin is now head coach at UNC Greensboro.

“I hope I left him a program that’s in good shape and he’ll enjoy coaching there, too,” says Jarrett.

After Eastern Carolina came the opportunity at Auburn, where John Pawlowski was head coach.

“J.P.’s a good guy,” says Jarrett of Pawlowski. “He’s a very organized leader. He’s very detailed in what he does. He gave me an opportunity to coach in the SEC and I’m very thankful for that.

“Navigating the draft was a tricky thing at Auburn. So many recruits were drafted every year. Sometimes we out-recruited getting them to campus.

“To win the (SEC) West and host a regional was phenomenal.”

Jarrett’s first head coaching gig at UNC Greensboro produced a 215-166 record in seven seasons, including 34 or more wins the past four seasons.

As a minor league player, Jarrett was a teammate of Todd Helton, who went on to play 17 big league seasons and hit .316 with 369 home runs, 1,175 runs batted in while striking out 1,175 times in 7,962 at-bats (or about 15 percent of the time).

“Pitch for pitch, he was the toughest out I’d ever seen,” says Jarrett of Helton. “He may not have been the biggest physically or had not the most power. But his ability to manage at-bats was phenomenal.

“I started to take some of what I watched him do and kind of filed it away knowing that these are things I need to teach as a coach. Some of it was swing stuff that he did, but it was based more on his approach to the at-bat and how he was being pitched.”

Jarrett says Helton had the ability to think through how he was being pitched really well and apply that knowledge during his at-bats.

“What separated him and made him a Hall of Fame-type hitter was his innate ability to pinpoint what he was looking for, focus on it and hit it or take it if it wasn’t within his approach,” says Jarrett. “Had he been less disciplined, he would have hit for less power. He gave himself a chance to get good pitches to hit.

“Putting the ball in play pressures people and Todd was obviously very good at it.”

The way Jarrett’s breaks down the count for hitters, there’s hitting with two strikes and less than two strikes.

“The goal when you get two strikes on you is not to strike out,” says Jarrett. “The goal with less than two strikes is to drive balls and hit balls really hard.

“The strikeout is the worst thing offensively that can happen to you. You’re not putting the ball in play. In the college game, it’s even worse than in the big leagues because the defense isn’t quite as skilled or positioned or talented.”

Link, 47, and Jennifer Jarrett have two children — J.T. and Dawson. J.T. Jarrett is a junior on the North Carolina State University baseball team. Like Notre Dame, the Wolfpack are in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

While on fall break, J.T. was able to see his father and attend the USC-Notre Dame football game this past weekend. Dawson Jarrett is finishing her senior year at Northern Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C.

LINKJARRETT

Link Jarrett is the head baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame. The Florida native comes to northern Indiana after serving as head coach at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. (University of Notre Dame Photo)