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West Vigo baseball’s DeGroote wants to be role model to his players

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of coach and middle of three athletic brothers, Culley DeGroote soaked in plenty of knowledge on his way to becoming head baseball coach at West Vigo High School. He has led the West Terre Haute-based Vikings since the 2014 season after eight seasons serving under father Steve DeGroote.

The elder DeGroote was an assistant at Indiana State University to American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn 1980-85 joined the coaching staff at West Vigo and led the program from 1993-2013. His teams went 441-118 with 11 Western Indiana Conference titles, 10 sectional champions, five regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up finish (2009). In 2017, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do I learned from (my father),” says Culley. “I learned how you treat players. Dad was a master motivator. He got them to buy into something bigger than themselves.”

While the rules were the same for all players, Steve DeGroote knew how to relate to each one as an individual, something he picked up from his athletic career and his days as an ISU recruiter.

“They say that coaching is not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes and dad got the most out of those Jimmys and Joes,” says Culley. “He was genius at reading talent. He was one of those who could see a kid come in as freshmen and see the finished product. He could see potential in a kid that very few people could see.”

Culley saw his dad attracted to the student and the athlete who was on a straight path.

“He had that ability to read people,” says Culley. “He could pick up on people’s habits and their priority in life. He navigated toward kids who had their priorities straight like him. Dad doesn’t drink, smoke or party. His faith is important to him. He was the (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) director at West Vigo. He lived a clean life and lived by example.

“I’ve tried to role model that with my players. I know you’re not going to be perfect, but you need to be striving for perfection.”

Steve DeGroote’s boys — Cory (West Vigo Class of 1991), Culley (1995) and Casey (1998) — were all three-sport athletes for the Vikings. Cory and Culley are both in the West Vigo Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cory DeGroote went to The Citadel to play basketball and baseball and then transferred to Indiana State, where he played baseball for three seasons. He coached multiple sports at North White High School and then served 12 seasons as head baseball coach at Mattawan (Mich.) High School. He is now president of Peak Performance, a travel sports organization based in Mattawan.

Casey DeGroote was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched as a professional until 2004. He served as general manager of the Terre Haute Rex in the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League and is now a train engineer.

Culley DeGroote earned the McMillan Award as the top male athlete in Vigo County and was an IHSBCA All-Star as a senior. He was a three-year starter in football, basketball and baseball and went on to be a three-year starter on both the hardwood and diamond at Franklin College.

His last baseball season was his junior year (he transferred to Indiana State to finish his degree). It was also the first as head coach for Lance Marshall, who still guides the Grizzlies.

“He cared about us as people,” says Culley. “He wanted to know your story and your background. I told myself that when I become a head coach, I hope my players in some way feel about me the way they felt about Coach Marshall.

“He was quiet and no-nonsense, but a super positive guy. You felt good about yourself after talking to Coach Marshall.”

Culley began his coaching career with a four-year stint on the staff of Scott Spada at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School. Before Spada, Derek Jeter played baseball for the Maroon Giants and went on to be captain of the New York Yankees. Future Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings did play for Spada.

Also the school’s head boys soccer coach, Culley heads in the 2018 baseball season with Zack Kent (varsity) and Kyle Stewart (junior varsity) as assistant coaches.

Steve DeGroote is still helping the Vikings baseball program as middle school director. The feeder program fielded two squads last spring — sixth and seventh graders combined and eighth graders. Playing 15 to 20 five-inning doubleheaders, the middle schoolers are heading into their third season in 2018.

“It’s an awesome thing,” says Culley. “It gives you a lot of flexibility and unity. It’s closed the gap between middle school and high school ball. We teach the same things. Getting coached in a lot of the little things that can win you a championship at a younger level.

“(Middle schoolers) get to play on the high school field and they love that.”

At a cost of more than $10,000, that field was upgraded in the fall of 2016 with more than 100 tons of infield dirt and artificial turf around the mound and home plate areas.

“That was the best idea I ever had,” says Culley. “We were getting in games (in 2017) we never got in before.”

Culley teaches physical education at the middle school and gets a chance to have a relationship with athletes as sixth graders.

West Terre Haute Little League, where Steve Shaffer is president, has three fields and four leagues (T-ball, minor and major).

“They are the lifeline of our program,” says Culley.

All of it has gone to help numbers at the high school. There were 15 freshmen baseball players at West Vigo in 2017 and 19 the year before that.

The varsity Vikings went 17-9 and lost to Edgewood in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Northview Sectional.

West Vigo is in the West Division of the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and Sullivan. Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley comprise the WIC East Division.

With about 1,023 students, Northview is the biggest school in the 2A/3A league with Cloverdale (370) as the smallest. West Vigo (581) is in-between.

Conference games are played five straight Tuesdays with a crossover game on the sixth Tuesday.

Since 1998, the Vikings have sent eight players on to NCAA Division I baseball and had three players drafted out of high school (Casey DeGroote by the Yankees in 1998, infielder Lenny Leclercq by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2005 and Jeremy Lucas by the Cleveland Indians in the 12th round in 2009).

Right-hander Morgan Coombs, a 2006 graduate, played at Lincoln Trail College and Ball State University and went un-drafted before three seasons with the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats. He was the Australian Baseball League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with the Adelaide Bite.

Middle infielder Tyler Wampler, a 2010 graduate, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Indiana State in the 17th round in 2014. He was head coach for the Terre Haute Rex in 2016-17.

Three of Culley’s players are currently at the D-I level — pitcher Davie Inman (West Vigo Class of 2015) at Coastal Carolina University, middle infielder Jordan Schafer (2016) at Indiana State and first baseman/pitcher Ty Lautenschlager (2017) at Northern Illinois University.

CULLEYDEGROOTE1

Culley DeGroote, a 1995 West Vigo High School graduate, is entering his fifth season as Vikings head baseball coach in 2018. Before that, he was an assistant to father Steve DeGroote, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

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Lemonis hustles to keep Hoosiers competitive, playing baseball the right way

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the early NCAA Division I National Letter of Intent signing period approaches — it’s Nov. 8-15 — Chris Lemonis is doing the thing that has made him one of the nation’s top college baseball recruiters.

“Hustle,” says Lemonis, who is going into his fourth season as head baseball of Indiana University baseball in 2018. “You’ve got to be willing to hustle. You have to have an eye for it. You also have to have a plan. What pieces are you trying to put together? (A player might be the) right fit for one school and not for the other.”

Lemonis, who is 101-72-2 with two NCAA regional appearance (2015, 2017) while leading the Hoosiers, likes to find as much in-state talent as he can and still remain competitive. “The state of Indiana has great high school players. It is a big base for us. We will reach out at times and fiend pieces.”

The Hoosiers — regularly top 25-ranked program — find most players within a five-hour drive from the Bloomington campus.

“But we don’t rule out anybody,” says Lemonis, who has been spending his share of time on the road, visiting recruits and working camps. “We like to be a physical team and an athletic team.”

Lemonis asks that athletes and their parents research to see what fits their needs.

As drawing cards for the Hoosiers, there is an IU degree plus the ever-growing profile of Big Ten Conference baseball. The 2017 season saw five B1G schools make the 64-team NCAA D-I tournament — conference tournament champion and automatic bid winner Iowa plus at-large invitees Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska.

Conference baseball continues to get recognition and revenue through the Big Ten Network.

“We try to keep our kids in this part of the country — Midwest staying at Midwest schools,” says Lemonis. “When I first came to Midwest, all the good players went south. There is now a commitment to baseball in our league.”

As evidence, all of the 13 baseball-playing B1G schools have stadiums that were either built new or renovated in the last few years, many with artificial turf.

Indiana moved to Bart Kaufman Field in 2013. Hoosiers benefactor Bart Kaufman went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017.

Illinois plays at Illinois Field, Iowa at Duane Banks Field, Maryland at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, Michigan at Ray Fisher Stadium, Michigan State at McClane Baseball Stadium at Kobs Field, Minnesota at Siebert Field, Nebraska at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park, Northwestern at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, Ohio State at Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium, Penn State at Medlar Park at Lubrano Field, Purdue at Alexander Field and Rutgers at Bainton Field. Wisconsin does not have NCAA D-I baseball.

Allowing for the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (IU’s Craig Dedelow was selected int he ninth round in 2017 by the Chicago White Sox and the Hoosiers count former players Micah Johnson, Josh Phegley, Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Slegers and Sam Travis as current big leaguers), Lemonis plans his recruiting on a three-year cycle.

The Big Ten does have a rule that players sign a four-year scholarship and not a series of one-year deals, which is common in other conferences.

Lemonis came to Indiana after serving 20 seasons as an assistant coach — 12 at The Citadel (1995-2006) and eight at the University of Louisville (2006-14).

At Louisville, he worked closely with head coach Dan McDonnell and made three trips to the College World Series (2007, 2013, 2014). They were college roommates, teammates and athletic Hall of Famers at The Citadel — the military college in Charleston, S.C.

“He’s a great leader of men and a great coach,” says Lemonis of McDonnell, who spoke at the 2017 IHSBCA State Coaches Clinic in Indianapolis. “He is very big on the motivation side — not only with the players but the staff. He’s always trying to push the program forward and put it in a better place. He’s one of the best in the business — if not the best.”

Phone calls between Lemonis and McDonnell are exchanged a couple of times a week.

“We bounce ideas off each other,” says Lemonis.

As a left-handed-swinging infielder at The Citadel, Lemonis had two head coaches — American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chal Port and Fred Jordan — before playing minor league baseball (1995-2004) with Triple-A stops in the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles organizations.

“(Port) was a tough old school coach,” says Lemonis. “He was big on fundamentals and playing the game the right way. He put together kids who became a close-knit group.”

Lemonis served 12 seasons on Jordan’s coaching staff.

“I got most of my development from him,” says Lemonis. “He was big into physicality and the speed of the game. We didn’t start (weight) lifting until Coach Jordan got there.”

When Lemonis was playing, most coaches thought baseball players should stay away from weights in order to remain flexible.

Now, strength and conditioning is a major part of the game. With fall baseball concluded, IU players are spending four days a week in the weight room, becoming bigger, stronger and faster.

Since many Hoosiers play spring, summer and fall, they are now giving their arms a rest. Throwing programs will resume in December and hitting will amp up. After Christmas break, the team will be in “spring training” mode as it prepares to open the 2018 schedule with four in South Carolina — Feb. 16 (Oklahoma), Feb. 17 (Kansas State) and Feb. 18 (South Alabama) in Myrtle Beach and Feb. 19 (Coastal Carolina) in Conway.

The home opener is slated for March 7 (Cincinnati).

Lemonis graduated from Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A move-in, he played his junior year for Jody Rush and senior season for Rick Hardwick, who had come from The Citadel.

As a product of his playing and coaching stops, Lemonis believes in “playing the right way.”

That is reflected in IU being among the top fielding percentage teams in the B1G and the way the Hoosiers train, show up early, hustle and demonstrate positive body language.

“It’s doing a hard 90 down the baseline,” says Lemonis. “It’s respecting the game.”

The IU coaching staff also features Kyle Bunn (associate head coach/pitching), Kyle Cheesebrough (assistant/recruiting coordinator), Zach Lucas (assistant) and Roger Rodeheaver (director of operations).

Cheesebrough and Lucas both played at Louisville and they help Lemonis with the Hoosiers’ offensive game.

CHRISLEMONIS

Chris Lemonis enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University in 2018. It will be his 24th as a coach at the NCAA Division I level. (Indiana University Photo)

 

Plymouth’s Wolfe looks for players who are competitive, confident, comfortable

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Wolfe was fiery as a player. He got hot at the beginning of his coaching career.

The flame still flickers to the surface on occasion.

But the Plymouth High School head baseball coach has learned to control the flames a bit with time and experience.

Wolfe graduated from Hamilton High School in northeast Indiana in 2001. He was a four-year varsity player for the Marines, which won the IHSAA Class 1A Bethany Christian Sectional in 2000. He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-star as senior.

Jim Sanxter was the coach.

A pitcher, Wolfe went on to Manchester College (now Manchester University) and played three seasons for Rick Espeset. The Spartans placed seventh in the 2004 NCAA Division III World Series.

“They had two totally different styles of coaching and both were effective,” says Wolfe of Sanxter and Espeset. “(Sanxter) had a huge influence on me. He was tough. He definitely didn’t go for excuses. He would challenge you and push you and he was very sincere. The more I coach, the more I understand some of the things he did.”

Wolfe came to see in Sanxter a passion and purpose for coaching. Not a teacher, the it was a selflessness that drove the man who coached 30 years, including 18 with Hamilton baseball and passed away in 2014.

“It was how he said things, when he said things and how he reacted to things,” says Wolfe. “I’m humbled to realize I learned from somebody like that.”

A calm demeanor is what Wolfe saw when he observed Espeset, who has led the Manchester program since the 1997 season.

“He had a way of staying even-keeled,” says Wolfe. “I never saw Coach Espeset really get upset.

“You knew he meant business, but he didn’t say it in a brash way. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”

Espeset helped his players understand the intricacies of the game and also gave them freedom.

“He let us learn from failure,” says Wolfe. “That’s what I try to do here. We’re not going to win every ball game.”

Wolfe’s post-game remarks after a Pilgrims loss is very minimal. He doesn’t want to harp on the negative.

“We want to get the kids to understand that baseball is much bigger than wins and losses,” says Wolfe, whose first season at Plymouth was 2013 (he was an assistant to Brian Hooker at Rochester High School in 2012 and head coach at West Central High School 2006-11). “We want competitors.”

Even Pilgrims practices — which generally include all 35 to 40 players in the program — have a competitive component. Players must earn a chance to take batting practice on Bill Nixon Field.

“It’s been phenomenal,” says Wolfe, who began combining squads for practice in 2015. “It brings a sense of unity. Our whole purpose is the same — to develop great young men through the game of baseball.”

Practices are broken into stations and one is devoted to work on routines. That’s how important it is to the Pilgrims.

Taking the teaches of mental conditioning and sports psychology expert Brian Cain, Wolfe and his assistant coaches (Brent Corbett, Kevin Garrity, Brian Schuler and Mitch Bowers) tell the players to “get back to green.”

There are green dots on the bats — a visual device that helps them relax and focus.

“We talk about breathing a lot and keeping our heart rate down,” says Wolfe. “We’re constantly talking about confidence.

“We want them to know their routine because a routine breeds confidence because it makes you comfortable.”

While his assistants hone in on hitting, pitching and fielding skills, Wolfe sees his role to develop his players’ mental sides.

“It’s an aspect of the game that’s left out,” says Wolfe. “We take time out of our day and do that.”

“It’s taken awhile for our kids to understand it’s a part of baseball. They’re high school kids. They don’t know how to handle failure. Are we perfect at it? No way.”

Wolfe and his staff are not trying to cram every player into the same mold.

“We are not cookie cutter,” says Wolfe. “We don’t have every kid hit the same or pitch the same. It’s about learning who you are as a player and what works for you.

“We’re trying to get the kids to take ownership.”

Like many coaches, Wolfe has taken concepts he has learned at clinics and American Baseball Coaches Association conventions and adopted them to the needs of his program.

Justin Dehmer has won multiple state titles in Iowa and has shared his knowledge through his line of 1 Pitch Warrior materials. Plymouth tracks B.A.S.E.2 (Big Inning, Answer Back, Score First, Extend the Lead, Score with 2 Outs, Quality At-Bat System). Wolfe knows that doing three of the five things on the chart often leads to victory.

The Pilgrims are looking for a K.O. — knocking the starting pitcher out by the fourth inning.

Other incentives are the Hit Stick (one each for varsity and junior varsity) and MVP jersey, which players can earn from game to game following a victory. Get the jersey the most times during the season — as voted on by the team — and that player is the season MVP.

“We’ve got to win to get anything,” says Wofle. “There’s nothing if we lose.”

Wolfe and his staff have crunched the numbers and witness enough success to be believers in their methods.

“This stuff does work,” says Wolfe.

Plymouth plays a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference (which also includes Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Warsaw and Wawasee) with games played Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

NorthWood went 14-0 in 2017, taking a pair of 1-0 wins against the Pilgrims. The game at Plymouth pitted NWHS senior Drake Gongwer against PHS sophomore Cam Dennie and was a classic.

“That’s one of the best high school baseball games I’ve ever seen,” says Wofle. “(The NLC) is very competitive. I like the format. In my five years, I have not seem the same pitcher start both games very often.”

Dennie is already verbally committed to Arizona State University, something he did before the 2017 season after showing well in Prep Baseball Report underclassmen games.

Wolfe sees it as his responsibility to engage in the recruiting process.

“I try to make as many connections as I can with college coaches around the area,” says Wolfe. “But I’m going to be honest with (players, parents and college coaches).

“I teach kids there’s a lot of levels of college baseball. You’ve got to show initiative and work hard in the class room also.”

Indiana alone has 38 programs — nine in NCAA Division I, three in NCAA Division II, nine in NCAA Division III, 14 in NAIA and three in junior college.

Wolfe, who also teaches social studies at PHS, lets his players and coaches know what is being sought by college coaches. He wants them to closely assess their situation and pay attention to the intangibles. On-base percentage and pitching velocity are easy to gauge.

But can they handle the grind of college baseball?

What kind if student are they?

What kind of teammate are they?

“These are the kinds of things we want here,” says Wolfe. “I have some of the longest parent meetings of all-time. But I try to be upfront.

“I don’t want to discourage kids from having those aspirations. I want them to reach their own potential and not compare themselves to other kids. You are who you are. It goes back to taking ownership of what you can do to reach that potential.”

Money has been raised to upgrade the playing surface at Bill Nixon Field, a facility named for the IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach. Wolfe says that project is to go forward after the 2018 season.

Tyler Wolfe — Ryan’s brother — really excelled at D-III Manchester and holds school pitching records for career wins, strikeouts, innings pitched and complete games.

Ryan and wife Tara Wolfe have two boys — fifth grader Preston and fourth grader Parker.

RYANWOLFE

Ryan Wolfe, a graduate of Hamilton High School and Manchester University, is entering his sixth season as head baseball coach at Plymouth High School.

 

McIntyre gives back to the game as North Central coach, IHSBCA leader

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

North Central High School of Indianapolis competes in a conference and sectional loaded with baseball talent.

The Panthers — with Phil McIntyre as head coach — take on opponents in the mighty Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, Pike and Warren Central). North Central is grouped in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional with Carmel, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Westfield.

“Our kids play at a very high level,” says McIntyre, who enters his 13th season on East 86th Street in 2017-18. “I think we play in the toughest sectional.”

The MIC plays 14 home-and-home conference games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The Panthers are also in the 16-team Marion County Tournament, which takes four wins to earn the championship — something NC did in 2016. Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis — site of the IHSAA State Finals — plays host to the championship games for the county and city tournaments. Being inside or outside the I-465 corridor determines the tournament for Indianapolis area teams.

“It’s almost tougher than winning a sectional,” says McIntyre of the county tournament. “(The tough schedule) that just gets our kids motivated. All our kids have the goal to play college baseball.”

And that’s not all.

North Central is renowned for its high academic standards and was one of the state’s first to offer an International Baccalaureate program. School policy dictates that all athletes must carry at least a 2.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale to be eligible.

NC baseball regularly posts a of 3.4 or better and has many academic all-state honorees.

“There’s a lot of opportunities,” says McIntyre, who teaches health and physical education in addition to his coaching duties. “We have more (Advanced Placement) courses than (many schools). It makes (our athletes) well-rounded.”

“Coach Mac” has built his program on the principles of respect for the game, selflessness and mental toughness.

“Our kids work very hard in what they do,” says McIntyre. “It’s a lot of fun to see their growth.”

The Panthers emphasize things like the hit-and-run, sacrifice and quality at-bats.

“They do that without having to be told,” says McIntyre. “It’s been a growing process when it comes to that.”

McIntyre is also proud to see alums come back to support current players.

“That shows something about our program,” says McIntyre.

North Central had a proud baseball moment this summer when outfielder Roy Thurman III was selected as MVP of the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie. The 2018 series will be played in South Bend at Four Winds Field.

McIntyre, who served as South head coach for the 2013 series, was there in his role as assistant to IHSBCA director Brian Abbott.

In his role, former association president McIntyre heads up the Junior Showcase at the all-star series and helps form and facilitate committees. Among those are North/South All-Star Series, State Clinic, Academic All-State, Media Relations, Top 10 Polls, Districts (there are 16 of them) and Umpire of the Year.

McIntyre enjoyed his experience with the American Baseball Coaches Association (which will hold its 2018 national convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis) when he was an assistant to Bret Shambaugh at Marian College (now Marian University) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI).

When McIntyre entered the high school ranks as an assistant to Steve Strayer at Boone Grove, he became acquainted with Bill Jones, the executive director and one of the IHSBCA founding fathers. He became hooked on the fellowship and the cooperation in the association.

“I just love being around coaches and learning,” says McIntyre. “It just means something to me — learning from those coaches and giving back.”

McIntyre gained passion for baseball while playing for head coach Charles Tait at Rensselaer Central High School. Phil graduated in 1990 and became the first in his family to go to college. He played for Shambaugh at Marian and got his degree in 1994.

“I learned so much about what I did not know (from Shambaugh),” says McIntyre. “(He is) why I wanted to be a coach.”

Shambaugh taught lessons about fundamentals and discipline which McIntyre still uses.

After a year at Boone Grove, McIntyre spent nine seasons as a varsity assistant for Wayne Johnson and then Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg. He was there when the community send teams to the Little League World Series in 1999 and 2001 and when the BHS Bulldogs had future major leaguers Lance Lynn, Drew Storen and Tucker Barnhart.

Brownsburg went to three straight IHSAA state championship games — finishing as runners-up in both 2003 and 2004 and going 35-0 as champs in 2005.

McIntyre took over a North Central program that had been struggling and won a sectional crown the first season (2006).

Getting the Panthers ready for 2018 will be McIntyre and his coaching staff of Scott King, Gabe Hoffman, Chad Cunningham, Nick Birch, Seth Hoffman, Tim Short and Katie Cluver. With Philip Webb leaving the staff to become head coach at Western Boone, McIntyre is sorting out roles. He has named Cluver as NC’s head freshmen coach.

“It’s a great opportunity for her,” says McIntyre of Cluver, the daughter of a coach who went to high school and college in Illinois. “The association has been very supportive.”

One season into the new IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days), McIntyre has a few observations.

“It was a learning experience this year when it came to our pitch count rule,” says McIntyre.  “Some teams had to take players out of (tournament games) because they reached their pitch limit. But that’s part of the game.”

McIntyre, who would like to see the IHSAA lengthen the season and add games (right now teams play 26 plus a tournament) and have championship series rather than a single-game title contest, says arm care is the most important thing and the rule forces teams to develop pitching depth.

“I kind of like that myself,” says McIntyre. “It really effects JV and C-team during the regular season. They have (a lower pitch limit and) more games in a shorter amount of times and need more pitchers. Do you have enough arms at the smaller schools? It becomes a numbers game.”

The number in the McIntyre household is four. Phil and wife Marlene have two children — Grace (17) and Ty (14).

PHILMCINTYRE

Phil McIntyre is the head baseball coach at North Central High School in Indianapolis and assistant to the executive director for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.

 

Anderson U. alum Bair looks to build ‘culture of brotherhood’ for Ravens

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Reaching out to re-connect with its winning baseball past, Anderson University has hired alum Matt Bair as head coach.

Bair, a 2001 AU graduate, played for and coached with Dr. Don Brandon and participated in the NCAA Division III World Series as a Ravens player (1998) and assistant coach (2003).

“I’ve been able to connect with several alumni already that are excited in the vision we are putting forward with the baseball program,” says Bair, who had former Anderson player and assistant coach Brent Hoober as the best man in his wedding. “We’re trying to gain some of their energy and momentum back.”

Brandon, who is in the Anderson, American Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after winning 1,100 games in 38 seasons, created what Bair calls a “culture of brotherhood” while competing at a high level.

With a foundation of respect, trust, loyalty, faith and fun, Bair is hoping to do the same.

“If you focus on the relationships, the wins will be the result,” says Bair. “Everybody is out there to win, but it can’t be the focus. It’s not the only piece of the puzzle. A lot of life lessons can be taught through the game. Coach Brandon was a master at that. He had a lot of wisdom. He gave us some great attributes that we could carry forward and be better men.

“I want players to have great memories of being loved by their coaches and teammates. I want to make this the best life experience possible for them.”

The 1996 Anderson High School graduate returns to campus after three high school head-coaching stops — one season at Cowan, three at Anderson Highland and one at Lapel plus an ongoing relationship with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization as a coach, instructor and board member.

Bair’s coaching staff includes Jim Hazen, Carlos Leyva, Jeff Freeman and Zach Barnes as assistants with J.D. Tammen as statistician, Brandon Schnepp as graduate assistant/baseball operations and Jacob Troxell as volunteer assistant. Leyva and Freeman were assistants to Bair at Anderson Highland.

AU coaches are on the recruiting trail — mostly around Indiana and the Midwest — looking for athletes who can help the Ravens compete in NCAA Division III baseball at a national level as well as in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. That means taking aim at some Division I-type talent.

“We want impact guys in our program,” says Bair. “We go after those big guys because sometimes our school is a good fit for them — academically, athletically and socially.”

Being a D-III school that gives no athletic scholarships, Bair says AU is “looking for kids who take a genuine interest in their academics.”

Besides the talent, Bair and company also look for the intangibles of coachability, competitiveness and caring. They are looking for someone who responds to instruction and is driven while being a good teammate.

Bair, the son of Debbie and Kevin Moore of Anderson and Glen Bair of Lapel, played at Anderson High for Terry Turner and Wally Winans. He was a shortstop on the 1995 Indians that reached the semistate.

“Both of them have a real love for the game and the kids that they coach,” says Bair of Turner and Winans, who were coaches in the 2017 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Muncie. “They were good at the X’s and 0’s of the game, but they also had an impact on developing me as a person. They were always good to me. They helped me grow in the game.”

Matt and Brooke Bair have been married 15 years and have three sons — Landon (13), Isaac (12) and Hogan (9).

Besides recruiting, Bair and his staff have been getting prepared for Aug. 28 — the day that players report to campus, where they will be greeted by an upgraded Don Brandon Field (new sod, bullpens, game mound, batting cages and regular visits from Midwest Turf Management).

“I’m really excited about some of these things we’re doing with our facility,” says Bair. “We want create a showcase field.”

NCAA D-III rules allow 16 days of fall practice. Bair plans to use that time for evaluation through practice and an Orange and Black series.

David Pressley was AU head coach after Brandon’s retirement and served for five seasons (2011-15). Dustin Glant led the Ravens in 2016. Drew Brantley and Mark Calder were interim co-head coaches in 2017.

MATTBAIR

Matt Bair, a 2001 Anderson University graduate, has been named as head baseball coach of the Ravens.

Lewandowski oversees community asset as Indians president and GM

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Victory Field has become a baseball destination in downtown Indianapolis.

Indiana high school baseball teams and their fan bases look to visit as part of the IHSAA State Finals.

As home of the Indianapolis Indians — Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates — the “Vic” regularly welcomes more than 600,000 spectators to enjoy what Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski calls a community asset.

On Friday and Saturday, June 16-17, Victory Field was the site of the 51st IHSAA State Finals (Indianapolis Cathedral, South Bend St. Joseph, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Lanesville took home state titles and the Irish, Indians, Raiders and Eagles placed a jersey in a case on the concourse).

The turnstiles clicked to the tune of 9,446 for the two days, including 6,664 for three Saturday contests.

It was the 21st year Victory Field has been site for the state championships. Other than a few times in Lafayette, the state tournament finals have been hosted by the Indians at Bush Stadium before the move to the corner of Maryland and West.

Lewandowski is proud to welcome passionate baseball fans from all over Indiana.

“We look forward to it,” says Lewandowski. “Hosting the state high school championships is part of why we’re here. It’s certainly something we look forward to every year.

“We just think the state championships should be held in Indianapolis.”

Victory Field was host to the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2001 (15,868 saw Louisville’s Adam Dunn of the International League and Tacoma’s Juan Thomas of the Pacific Coast League take MVP honors).

What about bringing the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series to Victory Field (it’s in Muncie in 2017 and South Bend in 2018)?

“More than anything in regards to (the series) it’s scheduling,” says Lewandowski. “This is one weekend we have asked off for with our league so we can host the state championships. To ask for more and more and more makes it hard to do.”

Lewandowski is in his 24th year with the Indians and third as general manager. In 2016, he was also named president of the club’s board of directors and the International League Executive of the Year.

The graduate of Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School and Anderson University brings enthusiasm to his job — one that often demands long hours.

“When the Indians are home seven or eight days in a row, we’re here 12, 13, 14 hours — 9 o’clock in the morning until the game is over at night,” says Lewandowski. “We get a reprieve if we have a day game scheduled, where you can compact everything quickly into the day and get to go home at night.

“That’s what most of us on staff love and hate at the same time. We love the event, the ballpark, the smiles or peoples’ faces. But it always takes you away from home and family, summer weekends. But you understand that when you get into what I call the ‘event world’ or baseball business. It truly becomes your lifestyle.

“You need to have great support at home. If you’re married and/or have kids and all that, it becomes more difficult. It’s a labor of love and we enjoy it.”

Lewandowski and wife Christina have two children — Alyssa and Sam.

Victory Field opened for business during the 1996 season.

“We’ve already completely 20 in downtown Indianapolis, which is really hard to believe,” says Lewandowski. “But we’ve had to work really hard at it.

“We think we have been the great downtown driver for people to Indianapolis.

“We work really hard to be an important part of the community. We want to always be able to give back.”

Drawing from central Indiana and beyond and a mix of season tickets, walk-ups and group sales, the Indians drew 636,888 for 71 dates in 2016 and were over 660,000 in both 2014 and 2015. For the first 33 dates of 2017, Tribe attendance was 256,643 — an average of 7,777.

Lewandowski says he expects the average to rise as the Indians hit the summer part of their season and group sales really kick in.

As Lewandowski’s role has evolved, his busiest time is from the last part of the season and the early part of the off-season. That’s when much of the planning, budgeting and marketing for the next baseball season happens.

After a slowdown during the holidays, it ramps back up again after the first of the year. Sales and promotional efforts are pointed toward the opening of the season in early April.

When the season arrives, Lewandowski and his staff go into execution mode — taking care of the myriad details that crop up everyday.

“Execution has always been a strong point for us,” says Lewandowski.

The details of playing baseball were instilled in Lewandowski by his Dwenger coach — Lance Hershberger.

“He took it seriously,” says Lewandowski of Hershberger, who just launched a community college baseball program at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. “He took over a Dwenger program that was not very good and we ended up being very good.

“My sophomore and junior years (1986 and 1987) we had very good teams. We never got beyond regional, but it was always special back then to think about Bush Stadium and coming to Indianapolis.”

At Anderson, Lewandowski saved 23 games as a pitcher for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and 1,110-game winner Don Brandon.

“I consider him a living legend,” says Lewandowski. “I learned about life from Coach Brandon and how to be a man. It’s those formative years when you’re in college.

“He’s a wonderful man. He’s caring, loves everybody. But he’s as competitive as all heck. That’s why he was able to win so many games. He was a competitor.”

One thing that’s carried over from his AU years into his current position is fighting back against the weather.

“If it’s on the schedule, you try to play the game” was a belief for Brandon.

“That’s something we do here,” says Lewandowski. “If we’ve got it on the schedule, we’re going to try to play the game. We don’t want to postpone a game just to postpone a game.”

Lewandowski looks back on one especially frigid Saturday doubleheader at Anderson.

“It’s Midwest baseball in March,” says Lewandowski. “We were chipping ice off the tarp.”

Brandon was not interested in backing up the schedule if he could get the games in on what came to be known as Don Brandon Field.

One of Brandon’s former players — Mathew Bair — was named as new AU head coach at the end of the 2017 season.

“We’re excited to see Raven baseball turn back around,” says Lewandowski.

After years with the Cincinnati Reds and a few with the Milwaukee Brewers, Indianapolis has been affiliated with the Pirates since 2006 and the current four-year player development contract goes from 2020.

“We’ve had a very good relationship,” says Lewandowski. “(The Pirates) communicate well. They’ve had some really good young talent come through here, especially as the Frank Coonelly/Neal Huntington regime got into place (as president and executive vice president and GM) in Pittsburgh.

“It’s been a good thing for us.”

And the baseball fans of Indiana have gone along for the ride.

RANDYLEWANDOWSKI

Randy Lewandowski is in his 24th year with the Indianapolis Indians and third as general manager. In 2016, he was also named president of the club’s board of directors and the International League Executive of the Year. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)

 

UIndy’s Vaught finds home in NCAA D-II baseball

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Vaught is having an impact on baseball both in Indiana and nationwide.

Vaught, who won 588 games at the high school, NCAA Division I and junior college levels before coming to America’s Crossroads, just concluded his 23rd season as head coach at the University of Indianapolis.

His UIndy teams have added 777 more wins to his collegiate head coaching total pf 944. He has taken the Greyhounds to 10 NCAA Division II tournament appearances with two trips to the D-II College World Series (2000, 2012).

Indianapolis was ranked in the Top 10 during the 2017 season. Five key injuries led to a 27-23 record and missing the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament.

“That’s what I preach to these kids: One ball, one slide can end your career,” says Vaught. “But it doesn’t have anything to do with keeping you from getting your degree.”

The Norman, Okla., native who was a high school head coach for eight years before four at Connors State College in Warner, Okla., three at Kansas State University and three at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

Vaught, a University of Central Oklahoma product, was Big Eight Coach of the Year at KSU in 1985. He led ORU to the NCAA West Regional finals in 1987, bowing out to host and eventual national champion Stanford.

He went from coaching to athletic administration after the 1989 season then got called back into the dugout.

“I grew up playing the game,” says Vaught. “I missed it tremendously.”

He coached his first season at UIndy in 1995.

“I’ve been blessed enough to have coached at all these levels,” says Vaught, who serves the American Baseball Coaches Association as NCAA Division II chair. “At Division II, you are more involved with the student-athlete.

“They know they’re coming to get an education and baseball has helped them attain it.

“It’s very important that people care.”

Vaught said he certainly enjoys winning — his college head coaching win percentage is .595 — but gets even more satisfaction from seeing a player earn his degree.

“Great coaches are made by those who help kids reach their goals and sometimes those goals don’t have to do with baseball,” says Vaught. “When we ask players to play here, it’s a marriage. When I started in coaching, we saw how many people we could get into pro ball.

“That’s not what it’s all about.”

While Vaught has coached future big leaguers — Keith Lockhart among them — he knows those are few and far between.

Former players come back to campus years later — often with his family in tow — to reminisce about the good times he had as baseball-playing student.

That’s what energizes Vaught, who at 65 has no intentions of stepping away anytime soon.

Vaught notes that there is not that much difference between D-I and D-II. Both follow the same rules and calendar. It’s just that D-I offers 11.7 scholarships and limits rosters to 35 and D-II gives 9 scholarships and is not limited to the number of players it can have on the roster (though only 27 can be in uniform for tournament games).

“We get too hung up on the levels,” says Vaught. “Parents want their kid to walk around with a Division I label on his back. What’s important is that their son or daughter is happy.

“Alums of that school are able to give back to that school and the community.”

When Vaught began his college coaching career, he was one of the youngest in D-I, now has the most seniority in the Hounds athletic department and has and worked under four UIndy presidents (G. Benjamin Lantz, Jerry M. Israel, Beverly J. Pitts and Robert L. Manuel).

Former UIndy athlete and coach Dr. Sue Willey is the vice president for Intercollegiate Athletics for the Greyhounds. She oversees an expanding number of sports and facilities, including the 90,200-square foot Athletics & Recreation Center (ARC) and baseball’s Greyhound Park.

“Sue is as good a person as I’ve ever worked for,” says Vaught. “She cares for the student-athletes and cares for the coaches.

“It’s a family here. The coaching staff here all gets along. At a lot of D-I places, you’re on a island.

“Our community keeps getting stronger, stronger and stronger … I wouldn’t trade my experience at UIndy for anything.”

UIndy is proud of its retention rate, the ability to attract and keep students on campus through graduation.

“They come here and enjoy it,” says Vaught. “They realize that the professors care about them and they’re not just a number.

“Once a kid comes here, he’s not shopping and looking to go somewhere else in one year.”

Vaught is pleased to proclaim UIndy’s grade-point average is higher than 3.0 with a roster of nearly 50 players.

“My kids will get in more trouble for not going to class than missing a ground ball,” says Vaught. “That’s a known fact here.”

Vaught warns that unlike video games, hitting the “re-set button” in life is not that easy so he tries to get his athletes to understand that before they head down the wrong path.

To get players ready for the real world, Vaught insists they go through a drug test each August. The program also participates in community service projects.

UIndy’s 2017 roster included 30 players with Indiana hometowns. There are some years when many states and different countries are represented.

“We try to get the best kids in our backyard first and then we go nationwide,” says Vaught.

Since the regular season ended, Vaught has fielded many calls from players, including those at the D-I level, looking for a place to play in 2017-18.

Vaught’s coaching tree has many branches in his 35 years in the profession, with former assistants at many levels of the game. The 2017 staff included Al Ready (associate head coach), Mark Walther (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator), Colton White (assistant coach), Trevor Forde (graduate assistant) and John Wirtz (assistant coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).

The Circle City will be the center of the college baseball coaching universe Jan. 4-7, 2018, when the ABCA national convention comes to Indianapolis for the first time. Given the location, Vaught said there could be as many as 10,000 in attendance. There are sure to be a few tours at UIndy and the NCAA headquarters in downtown Indianapolis.

“I’m looking forward to it,” says Vaught. “Every coach in the nation should be a member (of the ABCA). It’s our voice. Under (Executive Director) Craig Keilitz, the vision in baseball has grown in the communication area.

“I’m glad I’m a part of it.”

GARYVAUGHT

Gary Vaught just completed his 23rd season as head coach at the University of Indianapolis. He has more than 900 wins as a college head coach and serves as the American Baseball Coaches Association’s NCAA Division II chair. (UIndy Photo)