Tag Archives: Alexandria

Alum Douglas wants his Frankton Eagles to be embrace competition

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Douglas played for a high school baseball coach who appreciated hard-nosed players and those willing to lead.

Kyle Campbell was guiding the Frankton baseball program when Douglas was a student-athlete and now 1994 graduate Douglas is entering his fifth season as Eagles head coach in 2018.

“He would always challenge his guys,” says Douglas of the late Campbell. “He was always interested in giving guys opportunities to lead. He was always somebody who was going to earn what you got.

“He recognized hard work.”

Douglas takes much the same approach with his players at Frankton Junior/Senior High School.

He wants competitors.

“You play the kids who are up for the challenge,” says Douglas. “If you can play, I don’t care if you’re a sophomore or a freshman.”

Frankton is a small town in Madison County and the school has around 480 students.

Douglas tells his players that they are making lifetime of memories during their school days.

“I’m a firm believer in the kids being good citizens and good students,” says Douglas. “I want them to be extremely involved with the community, have school spirit and support everyone. They should appreciate the four years and make the best of it.”

This high-knit community lost a baseball coach and teacher the day after Christmas 2017 when Chris Hatzell died unexpectedly at 44. The 1992 Frankton graduate was an eighth grade social studies teacher and tended the first base box for the Eagles.

“He was a great guy and a great dad,” says Douglas, who was a a high school teammate of Hatzell’s for two years. “You learn a lot about people after they’re gone. Students were very touched by the loss of Coach Hatzell.”

Douglas works as a union representative for Rolls Royce in Indianapolis and Hatzell was his “eyes and ears” at the school and did many things behind the scenes. On the diamond, he would throw batting practice or swing the fungo bat for hours.

“We reflected each other well,” says Douglas, who recalls Hatzell coaching a 12-year-old Frankton team to a Town & Country Baseball state championship.

To honor Hatzell, there will be a patch on Frankton jerseys this spring. There are also plans for a memorial marker near the dugout on the Eagles’ home field.

That field, located on the Frankton Elementary School grounds, has an infield that’s been re-graded and re-sodded with an irrigation system installed. The mound and home plate areas have been re-built. There is also new on-field storage in the home dugout, new concrete and safety hand rails in each dugout and concrete tee stations in the batting cage.

Frankton is part of two-high school district in Frankton-Lapel Community Schools.

“The kids still have a passion for the rivalry” says Douglas of the Lapel Bulldogs. “It keeps our kids motivated. You don’t want to go a whole year wearing a loss from your sister school.”

While Lapel is an athletic independent, Frankton belongs to the Central Indiana Conference (along with Alexandria-Monroe, Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill).

Since Douglas took over the program, he has gotten the Eagles schedule back up to the 28-game regular-season limit and includes plenty of quality.

“When you have Shenandoah, Wapahani, Tipton and Yorktown in addition to our CIC schedule (each team meets the other once on Tuesdays and Thursdays), you’re in for some good baseball,” says Douglas.

The Eagles are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lapel, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani.

“We play in one of the toughest sectionals in the state,” says Douglas. “It’s competitive regardless of the names of the players. You’ve got coaches like Brian Dudley at Wapahani, Matt Campbell at Lapel, Bruce Stanley at Shenandoah and Keith Nunley at Monroe Central.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us. But it’s a good challenge that we embrace.”

The Eagles’ last two sectional titles came in 2003 and 2016. They were also regional champions in ’03.

Returnees for Frankton in 2018 include to college baseball-committed seniors in right-handed pitcher/shortstop Landon Weins (Morehead State University) and right-hander/infielder Evan Doan (Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo.) plus others from the Class of ’18 in right-hander/center fielder Travis McGuire, outfielder Will Harris, utility Brock Threet and Noah Van Slyke.

“We have nine seniors returning,” says Douglas. “That’s unheard of for a small school.”

There’s also junior right-hander/third baseman J.J. Hatzell and sophomore left-hander/outfielder Ethan Bates.

Frankton’s 2018 assistant coaches are Rick Dellinger, Tim Friend and Mark Caldwell.

Alumnus Matt Kunce is currently a player at Huntington University.

Prior to taking over the program at his alma mater, Douglas was coaching in youth and travel baseball. He continues to coach son Bradyn Douglas (a seventh grader) with Tony Cookerly and the 13U White Indiana Bulls.

“I’m a huge proponent of travel baseball,” says Douglas, who has had Frankton players also play for the Indiana Prospects, Indiana Mustangs, USAtheltic and others. “I use a lot of things that (executive director) Dan Held preaches throughout the Bulls organization.”

Frankton’s high school program is also fed by Red and White seventh and eighth grade club teams.

Brad and Tricia Douglas also have a daughter. Sydney Douglas is a Frankton junior.

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Frankton baseball coach Brad Douglas (left) celebrates with Jake Richwine in 2017. The 2018 season will make the fifth as Eagles head baseball coach for 1994 Frankton graduate Douglas.

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Swinson returns to high school dugout for Eastbrook Panthers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A man who’s been coaching since the late 1980’s has returned to a head high school baseball post after six seasons away.

Steve Swinson is now in charge at Eastbrook High School near Arcana in Grant County.

Swinson, who is both a football defensive coordinator and head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School near Kokomo as well as a supervisor for the Howard County Highway Department, served as head baseball coach at Eastern High School in Greentown from 2006-11, leaving after he wife Stacey’s son Saxon’s senior season to help coach daughter Shayden’s youth softball teams.

Saxon is now 25 and Shayden is an Eastern freshman.

Prior to his stint at Eastern, Swinson was a baseball assistant at Northwestern from 1998-2005. With Ryan Berryman (now head coach at Western High School in Russiaville) as head coach, the Tigers were IHSAA Class 2A state runners-up in ’05.

Swinson is a 1987 graduate of Kokomo High School, where he played baseball for coach Mike Smith.

“He was very competitive,” Swinson says of Smith. “He was a black-and-white coach. It was yes or no. There was no gray area. That’s how I try to coach myself. It’s either right or wrong. It’s what works for me and my system.”

After high school graduation, Swinson coached for South Side Youth Baseball based in Kokomo’s Highland Park. His 1995 team was runner-up in the 12U Bambino Baseball World Series in Abbeville, La.

Swinson is proud of his long career of leading athletes.

“Every year I coach, I feel blessed in being around the kids and building relationships with coaches,” says Swinson.

The Eastbrook Panthers have enjoyed plenty of success in football, going 37-4 the past three falls with 2A state runner-up finish in the fall of 2016 and a regional title in 2017.

“I see no reason they can’t be successful in the spring,” says Swinson, who takes over a baseball program that sent all-state catcher Andrew Lawvere to the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and then on to NCAA Division I baseball at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and also graduated pitcher Ross DeBonis.

Returnees for the Panthers include senior third baseman/right-handed pitcher Matt Hollars, senior middle infielder Wyatt Jackson and senior left-hander/outfielder Ryan Mansbarger (who recently surpassed 1975 graduate Rick Harness to become Eastbrook’s all-time leading basketball scorer), junior first baseman/right-hander Joshua Pluimer, junior outfielder Mason Hale (a football quarterback), junior catcher Joe Hayes and sophomore shortstop/right-hander Dylan Bragg.

“We have a strong junior class,” says Swinson, who counts former Madison-Grant High School and Indiana Wesleyan University pitcher Ryne Brown and former Madison-Grant Mike Brown as well as Steven Shelby and Hoyt Young as assistant coaches. “They are really good athletes. They like baseball. They just don’t have the fundamentals yet. We are going to work fundamentals hard.”

Swinson also plans to have all his players — including the seventh and eighth graders at Eastbrook Junior High School — working a rake or an edger on the school’s diamond.

“It’s a big thing at all levels for kids to take ownership of the baseball field and make it look nice,” says Swinson. “It’s not my field, it’s their field.

“It’s about accountability and what it takes to be part of a good program.”

There has been excitement on the campus with the talk of building new baseball and softball fields along with concession stand, restrooms and fieldhouse that is located closer to the football field.

“I’m excited about the future,” says Swinson.

Besides the junior high team which offers a local alternative to travel ball, EHS baseball is fed by Van Buren and Upland youth leagues. Swinson says they may merge into single league for baseball and softball.

The Panthers last won a sectional championship in 2004 and are currently in a 2A sectional grouping with Alexandria-Monroe, Eastern (Greentown), Elwood, Madison-Grant, Taylor and Tipton.

Eastbrook belongs to the Central Indiana Conference (along with Alexandria-Monroe, Blackford, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill).

The CIC has each team play the other once with conference games often being played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Swinson says playing them like this means one team will likely dodge another’s No. 1 pitcher.

Speaking of pitching, 2017 marked the introduction of new IHSAA pitch count rules (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).

“I like it,” says Swinson of the idea of limits. “I’ve seen too many kids over the years have to stop playing because they’ve been taught the wrong fundamentals.”

There’s also all the wear and tear that happens with all the throws that happen during or before the game that don’t get recorded as part of the pitch count.

“It’s for the safety of kids,” says Swinson. “As a football coach, we have the helmet-to-helmet rule. We have a set of shoulder pads. We say ‘let’s tackle the right way.’”

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Steve Swinson, a football defensive coordinator and head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School, is now also head baseball coach at Eastbrook High School.

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Steve and Stacey Swinson have two children — Saxon and Shayden. He has added head baseball coach at Eastbrook High School to a list of jobs which also includes football defensive coordinator and head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School. He has been a baseball head coach at Eastern (Greentown) High School and a baseball assistant at Northwestern.

 

 

Closser heeds call of baseball coaching

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J.D. Closser played professional baseball for 14 seasons.

After two campaigns away from the diamond, the former Indiana Mr. Baseball decided it was time to return to the game that has been so good to him.

“I wanted to give back what I’ve learned and make a career out of it,” says Closser, the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. “(Baseball is) what I’ve done my whole life.”

His goal is to make it back to the majors in some capacity.

Closser was 18 when he began his pro playing career in 1998 after being selected in the fifth round of that year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Alexandria-Monroe High School. The Monte Sprague-coached Tigers won the 1998 IHSAA Class 2A state title.

Closser played for the South Bend Silver Hawks for parts of the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons and made his MLB debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2004 and logged 160 MLB games over three seasons.

He also played in the Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers systems through 2011.

Closser was 34 when he started coaching in 2014 with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees.

The former left-handed-swinging catcher spent two seasons in Tampa (working for managers Al Pedrique and Dave Bialas) and is now 37 and in his second year with Trenton.

Closser, who serves on the staff of 2017 Eastern League Manager of the Year Bobby Mitchell, carries the official title of defensive coach. Mitchell was also Trenton manager in 2016.

Coaching duties for Closser in 2017 include throwing batting practice and hitting fungos during batting practice while concentrating on the team’s catchers before, during and after contests.

“I make sure they get their work in,” says Closser. “I also get advance reports together for coaches and catchers and set up a gameplan for opposing teams. (In the bullpen), I give (relievers) a brief rundown on who is coming into the game.”

Closser says there is more game planning done and in-game adjustments made in Double-A than at lower levels of MLB-affiliated baseball.

“They’re executing pitches and working off their strengths (in A-ball),” says Closser catchers and pitchers. “You begin to spot a hitter’s weaknesses (in Double-A).”

There is also plenty of work on blocking and receiving pitches and talk of Pop times (time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the intended fielder receives his throw.).

Like all organizations, the Yankees have a way they like to develop their players. But they do allow their coaches some freedom to use their own experiences to help players.

“You can incorporate our own ideas, things that have worked for you,” says Closser.

A few years ago, he helped one of his catchers by passing on a lesson he had learned about speeding up his throws to second base.

“I wanted him to get the ball in his throwing hand and in the air as fast as possible,” says Closser. “It is a thought process.”

Growing up, Closser’s thoughts were filled with baseball, fueled by men like Sprague and his father, Jeff (who is now head baseball coach at Alex).

Young J.D. gained a foundation based on work ethic.

“It was about going out and practicing,” says Closser. “So much of today’s player is showcasing and playing games. My dad instilled in me that you practice everyday. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice. It’s the Rule of 10,000. If you want to be good at anything, you have to do it 10,000 times.”

J.D. also learned about accountability.

“Your teammates and coaching staff are counting on you to show up and do your game everyday,” says Closser.

What he misses most about his playing days is the unity.

“I remember the clubhouse atmosphere being part of a team,” says Closser. “There was that competing everyday day and learning how to attack hitters.”

At home in Raleigh, N.C., Closser’s home team features wife Holley and daughters Belle (14), Callie (12) and Maebry (1). Belle is a freshmen in high school and Callie a seventh grader. Holley is from the area. She met J.D. when he played in Zebulon for the 2002 Carolina Mudcats.

Closser will have to wait to see what off-season assignments the Yankees might send his way. Trenton was to close out the regular season Monday, Sept. 4, and open the Eastern League playoffs Wednesday, Sept. 6.

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J.D. Closser, a 1998 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is a bullpen coach with the Trenton Thunder in the New York Yankees organization. He played 14 professional baseball seasons and 2017 is his fourth as a coach. (Trenton Thunder Photo)

 

Closser has Alexandria focused on work ethic, respect for the game

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tigers — in the wild — are known for being focused, determined and patient.

On the baseball field, the Tigers of Alexandria-Monroe High School are expected to display some of these characteristics and more.

Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria graduate, is in his 11th season as the Alex Tigers head coach.

“We always play hard (and are focused on) the integrity of the game,” says Closser. “I’m real big on treating the game the way it’s supposed to be treated and teaching the kids life lessons.

“It’s not all about baseball. It’s about learning to get along and deal with life, too.”

Closser wants his young athletes to know about strong work ethic.

“Kids are different hard now,” says Closser. “They think they want to work hard and they really don’t know how. We try to teach that.”

Assistant coaches Jeff Sells, Adam Rusche and Braden Warren are helping the sometimes-intense Closser deliver the message.

“You’ve got to trust your assistants,” says Closser. “You’re going to tell them things don’t want anybody else to know. You want to bounce stuff off their heads. They’ve got to take some stuff, too.

“I’m a pretty uptempo guy and I sometimes get excited. They’ve got to know that some of the things I’m saying to them they’ve got to let go over their head and not take it to heart all the time.”

Closser appreciates it when his younger players who don’t yet know his ways are counseled by the veterans.

“Our older kids will take them off to the side and say, ‘his bark is worse than his bite. Take it for what it’s worth. Listen to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it,’” says Closser. “Sometimes you have to be a dad to (players). Sometimes you have to be a coach to them or a mentor.”

When Closser took over at Alex, he established a junior high team, which mirrors what is being done at the high school and essentially has replaced Babe Ruth baseball in town. Those junior high boys play 20 games in June in the East Central Indiana League.

“I wanted them to start learning what we do at our level so when they come in as freshmen they could be ready,” says Closser. “It’s worked out really well for us.”

With so many three-sport athletes, there is not much travel baseball around Alex.

“I like three-sport athletes,” says Closser. “You don’t have to wonder what they’re doing when they’re not around you.

“I played three sports in high school. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it makes them a better person and more disciplined. You’ve got to have a routine.”

Alexandria, an IHSAA Class 2A school, has won 18, 19, 20, 22 and 16 games in the past five years and was off to a 5-2 start in 2017 despite not having a high team batting average.

“We’ll hang our hats on pitching and defensive this year and being aggressive on the bases,” says Closser. “We bunt; we steal; we hit-and-run. At this point, we have to do that kind of stuff to scratch out some runs.”

Baseball has a strong tradition at Alex. The Tigers have won seven sectional (1974, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1998, 2013, 2016), two regional (1981, 1998), one semistate (1998) and one state championship (1998).

The ’98 team (25-4), coached by Monte Sprague, featured Indiana Mr. Baseball J.D. Closser (Jeff’s son went on to play Major League Baseball with the Colorado Rockies after being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fifth round in 1998 and spending parts of the ’98, ’99 and 2000 minor league seasons with the South Bend Silver Hawks).

“It was fun to just sit back and watch,” says Closser. “They had a great team. It wasn’t just about (J.D.).

“It was fun for the other guys because there were always a lot of scouts around.”

In a 4-3 championship game win against Evansville Mater Dei, Joe Granger, Justin Musick and Mike Clark drove in runs while Granger, Clark, Justin Melton and Mat Blanton scored them. Jim Linder went to distance on the mound with nine strikeouts. J.D. Closser was presented with the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award.

That was the first school year for IHSAA class sports and Alex, coached by Garth Cone, also raised the state championship trophy for 2A boys basketball. Wade Leer, David Potter, Trester Award winner Rusty Garner and J.D. Closser logged the most minutes in the 57-43 title game win against Southwestern (Hanover).

J.D., the oldest of Jeff and Emily Closser’s three children, is coaching in the New York Yankees system. He is the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder (a Double-A affiliate).

Josh Closser played basketball at Alex and graduated in 2000. Jackie (Closser) Novinger graduated in 2003 and went on to play basketball at Butler University. One of her high school teammates was 2005 Indiana Miss Basketball Jodi Howell (who played at Purdue University).

The Tigers have produced eighth Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stars — DeWayne Allen (1981), Dan Overman (1984), Barry Morphew (1986), Dean Morehead (1990), Brian Yeagy (1991), Jeff Urban (1995), J.D. Closser (1998) and Owen Young (2014).

Alex plays in the Central Indiana Conference (with Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). Frankton has been ranked this spring in the IHSBCA Top 10. Each league team plays one another once on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

That leaves room for top-notch non-conference competition.

“We like to play a good schedule,” says Closser, who saw Alex host at an early-season tournament featuring defending 2A state champion Providence plus Rossville and Peru. “That puts us ready for the conference and for tournament time.”

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Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Alex Tigers.