Over the years, Tanner has soaked up diamond knowledge from Kevin Long (current Washington National hitting coach), Mike Stafford (former Ball State and Ohio State assistant), Mike Shirley (Chicago White Sox amateur scouting director), Michael Earley (Arizona State hitting coach), Mike Farrell (Kansas City Royals scout), Kyle Rayl (former Muncie, Ind., area instructor) and more.
“I believe in doing things the right way,” says Tanner, who primarily a catcher and designated hitter in the collegiate and pro ranks. “I don’t like kids talking back to the umpire. Treat people with respect.
“If the umpire makes a bad call, learn from it and move on.”
The coach gave his biggest praise to the power-hitting Tanner the day he hit a routine pop fly that resulted in him standing on second base when the second baseman mishandled the ball because he took off running at impact.
“You’ve got to work hard,” says Tanner, who was head coach of the 16U Nitro Cardinal and assisted by Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate and NCAA Division I Murray State University pitcher Carter Poiry in the spring and summer and is now an assistant to organization founder Tim Burns with the 16U Nitro Gold. “I’m not a fan of people who just show up to play and don’t do anything in-between the weekends.”
Last weekend was the first of the fall season for the Nitro, which will play most events at Grand Park in Westfield, and close out with a Canes Midwest tournament.
Tanner, who was born in Muncie and raised on a 40-acre horse farm in Yorktown, played for the Nitro when he was 18 after several travel ball experiences, including with USAthletic, Pony Express, Brewers Scout Team and Team Indiana (for the Under Armour Futures Game).
Tanner has witnessed a change in travel ball since he played at that level.
“There are more team readily available,” says Tanner. “It used to be if you played travel ball you were good. Now it’s more or less watered down.
“You’ll see a really good player with kids I don’t feel are at his level.”
While the Indiana Bulls one of the few elite organization with multiple teams per age group, that is more common these days.
Older brother Zach Tanner played for the Bulls and went on to play at National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Lincoln Trail College (Robinson, Ill.), NCAA Division I Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio) and in the American Association with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and the Grays of the Frontier League before coaching at NJCAA Division III Owens Community College (Perrysburg, Ohio) and NAIA Indiana Wesleyan University.
Zeth Tanner began his college baseball career at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University, redshirting his sophomore season (2015). David Pressley was then the Ravens head coach.
He finished the summer of 2018 playing with his brother on the Portland (Ind.) Rockets and played with that amateur long-established team again in 2019.
Tanner ended up as a Pro X Athlete Development instructor for baseball and softball offering catching, hitting and fielding private training sessions through a Nitro referral and interview with Jay Lehr.
Former Muncie Northside High School and University of South Carolina player Mark Taylor is owner of 5 Tool Academy, where Zach Tanner (31) is also an instructor.
The right-handed pitcher from Columbus, Ind., playing independent professional baseball has been dominant in his back of the bullpen role.
As the closer for the American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen, Gray goes into play today (Aug. 26) with a 2-0 record, 10 saves and a 0.00 earned run average. In 24 innings, he has yet to allow a run and has struck out 41 (15.375 per nine innings) and walked 10.
“For the most part, I try to stay with myself and pitch to my strengths,” says Gray. “I’ve been able to catch some breaks.
“It’s been fun so far.”
A 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, Gray delivers a fastball, slider and change-up from a three-quarter overarm slot. The slider breaks in on left-handed batters and away from righties and the “Vulcan” change sinks.
But it’s his four-seam fastball that’s been his out pitch. It travels 90 to 93 mph and — he learned while working out in the off-season with Greg Vogt of PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. — that it has an above-average spin rate.
The 2020 season marks Gray’s third in pro ball. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2018 out of Florida Gulf Coast University and played rookie-level and Low Class-A ball in the Rockies system in 2018 and 2019.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Association is operating with six teams — Milwaukee, Chicago Dogs, Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks, Saint Paul Saints, Sioux Falls Canaries and Winnipeg Goldeyes — playing a 60-game schedule. When the season began, Milwaukee was one of three hubs. Later on, Chicago and Saint Paul opened back up and began hosting games. Winnipeg has been playing mostly road games.
Milwaukee is about a five-hour trip from Columbus meaning his family has been able to see him play in-person.
“They’re huge baseball fans,” says Peyton of father Billy Gray and older brother Jordan Gray. “They get to live their baseball dream through me. They’ve traveled and supported me through all these years.
From 12 to 17, Peyton played travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. Billy was head coach of that team in the early years and Shelbyville’s Terry Kuhn filled that role in the later ones.
Bowling is a big deal in the Gray family. Billy owns Gray’s Pro Shop in Columbus Bowling Center. Jordan is the men’s bowling coach at Marian University in Indianapolis and his fiancee — Jerracah Heibel — is an associate head bowling coach at MU. Billy Gray is a Knights assistant.
Lisa Gray, wife of Billy and mother of Jordan and Peyton, works for Bartholemew County Youth Services Center.
Peyton Gray holds a Criminal Justice degree from Florida Gulf Coast and goes on ride-alongs with police officers during the baseball off-season. He says he sees himself going into some form of law enforcement in the future.
The Battle rages Aug. 1-Sept. 13 with games contested Wednesday through Sunday at Florence’s UC Health Stadium and Lexington’s Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Claycamp, who commuted from Columbus to begin the season, has made arrangements for an Airbnb in Lexington. When the Legends play in Florence, he stays with family friends in the Lawrenceburg/Sunman, Ind., area.
Ellis, a Jeffersonville High School graduate, played at the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. The third baseman plays home games only for the Legends and Leyengas.
Thompson (Floyd Central) is a 6-6 right-hander who was at Louisville and in the Detroit Tigers organization. He was in indy ball at Sussex County in 2019.
Right-hander Talcott (McCutcheon) last pitched for Earlham College in 2019.
Outfielder Baker played at Ball State University and was in independent ball in the American Association in 2019 (Texas and Kansas City).
Righty Dougherty (Morgan Township) pitched for Grace College before taking the mound in the United Shores Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich.
Floyd (Jimtown) was at Ball State University and the righty hurled for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in 2019.
While his primary position growing up and through college was shortstop, Claycamp has moved around the field.
“I’ve been a utility player my whole life,” says Claycamp.
At Columbus (Ind.) East High School, where he graduated in 2015, he was a shortstop as a freshman, shortstop and second baseman as a sophomore, third baseman as a junior and third baseman, shortstop and second baseman as a senior.
He played those same three spots in his one season at the University of Dayton (2016) and then was locked in at short in three campaigns at Franklin (2017-19). He helped the Grizzlies win back-to-back Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference titles in his final two campaigns.
Claycamp was invited to pre-Major League Baseball Draft workouts by the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies in, but was unable to attend with Franklin making the school’s deepest ever postseason run, reaching the regional final in Sequin, Texas.
After getting into eight games at NCAA Division I Dayton (two starts), Claycamp transferred to D-III Franklin and played in 128 contests for the Grizzlies. He hit .354 (174-of-491) with 20 home runs (tied for No. 9 in program history), 46 doubles (No. 5 all-time), 133 runs batted in (No. 6) and 143 runs scored (No. 4).
Right-handed pitcher Gray went on to Florida Gulf Coast University, the Colorado Rockies organization and is now in independent pro ball with the Milwaukee Milkmen.
Right-hander/outfielder Curry started at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When SJC school closed, he went to Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Anderson, a 6-foot-8 righty, pitched at Northern Illinois University.
Left-hander Brian Wichman was at Murray State University then hurled for the University of Indianapolis.
Catcher Christian Wichman played briefly at Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., where he was also a football player.
Claycamp played in both Bartholomew County Little League (weekdays) and travel baseball (weekends) until he was in high school. Bartholomew County (now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County) won a state title when he was 12 and lost in the Great Lakes Regional championship. The winner went on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Early travel ball teams were the Columbus Crush, Indiana Blazers and BCLL All-Stars. In high school, Claycamp donned the jerseys of the Indiana Redbirds, Indiana Outlaws and Johnson County/Indiana Jaguars.
Besides baseball, Sam played football until middle school. He was on the school basketball team through eighth grade then played intramural and church hoops.
His falls were dedicated to deer hunting.
David and Tammy Claycamp have two sons — Sam and Kobbe (22). David Claycamp is machine shop manager at Innovative Casting Technologies in Franklin. Tammy Claycamp is a teacher at Faith Lutheran Preschool in Columbus. Kobbe Claycamp played baseball and football at Columbus East. He was on the IHSAA Class 5A state championship team in 2017 and state runner-up squad in 2016. He also played club rugby in high school.
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.”
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.”
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.”
In 2014, former Logansport High School baseball players Young (Class of 1991) and Stephens (Class of 1993) joined forces to form an LLC.
Young is the bat maker. Stephens handles the business side of things.
The company grew and TItan moved to a 5,000-square foot building at 2135 Stoney Pike off U.S. 35 in March 2020.
The facility allows room for a semi-automatic copy lathe as well as new ultra-accurate MotionCat CNC machine and other necessary equipment.
“It allows us to keep up with the demand,” says Stephens. “The cupping machine allows us to take (up to) 6/10 of an ounce off a bat.”
There’s a place still tool bats by hand.
“On a good day, that’s a four-hour process,” says Young.
There’s an area for dipping bats in lacquer, painting them and applying logos.
The end of one room is devoted to the storing and caring of precious cargo.
It’s the wood that sets Titan apart. The company only uses Prime billets of ash, maple and cedar with 7- to 10-percent moisture content to turn a bat. In the wood industry, there’s Choice, Select and Prime and they all come with different price points.
“The billets are the best you can get on the market,” says Stephens, who lettered at Indiana State University in 1996 and 1997. “We could certainly buy cheaper.”
But Titan is making boutique hand-crafted baseball bats.
“We’re focused on quality,” says Stephens. “When makes us unique is that you can’t just buy wood from anywhere. We use wood that’s wedge-split that’s true to the slope of the grain.
“The wood can be too dry or too wet, which means it’s green inside and heavy. You have to have a specific bullet for a specific model.”
Titan is currently producing up to 30 models.
“We have a lot of repeat customers,” says Young. “We stick with Prime (wood) even for youth.”
Those loyal customers come back for the sound of a ball struck by a Titan.
“It stands out,” says Young.
There’s a reason the product carries that name.
Before thinking about going into business, former Logansport Church of Christ preacher Young was having a discussion with wife Tracey.
They came across the definition of Titan, which is a standout, powerful person.
“To me, that means the Lord,” says Young’
There’s sign in the shop letting visitors know that Titan is a “Kingdom Business” and cites Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
Confidence and self-assurance was valued by Jason Van Skike as a baseball player and are traits emphasized by him as a coach.
“Baseball is a great teacher of things that happen in your life,” says Van Skike, the second-year pitching coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School. “You focus on the things you can control. There are three things we talk about everyday — work ethic, attitude and confidence.
“You can’t make up for a lost day,” says Van Skike. “You want to always go to bed at night knowing you put in your best effort.”
That’s work ethic.
“You have a choice to have a good attitude or a bad attitude,” says Van Skike. “It’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to get better.
“If you believe good things are going to happen, good things tend to happen. If you believe bad things are going to happen, bad things tend to happen.”
“My job is to make sure (Westfield pitchers) feel that they are the absolute man,” says Van Skike. “That’s all do-able if they’ve done the things they need to do on the days leading to (the game appearance).”
Rick Heller, who is now head coach at the University of Iowa, was ISU head coach when Van Skike was in Terre Haute. Heller had him join the Sycamores after seeing the righty at a sophomore showcase while he was at Treasure Valley.
“(Heller) would preach ‘chest out; a lot of confidence,’” says Van Skike. “I would hear that all the time. I found out that body language plays into the game. If you can trick yourself into thinking you’re the man, you might be the man.
“(Heller) was always talking about body language and confidence.”
Van Skike says it was not until the end of his college career that this lesson really began to sink in.
“I was an excuse maker,” says Van Skike. “If I walked a guy, it wasn’t my fault.”
“(Herbst) made me feel comfortable,” says Van Skike. “He didn’t try to change too much of what I was.”
Herbst went on to help steer Sean Manaea, who is now in the majors.
“He was a baby giraffe at Indiana State and didn’t know how to pitch,” says Van Skike of Manaea.
Van Skike had come a long way by the time he pitched for the Sycamores.
He entered Gig Harbor, he was 5-foot-5 and maybe 135 pounds. He didn’t make the varsity squad until he was a senior.
“They kept me around since I had a sense of urgency,” says Van Skike, who played for Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pete Jansen. “I ran on and off the field. I needed to in order to stand out.”
By the time he was a senior, he had began to fill out and stood 6-3.
He went to Treasure Valley, where Rick Baumann was head coach, with a fastball clocked at 78-82 mph. That’s when he began showing up an hour early for practice every day to do a towel drill. By the end of the fall, he was up to 84 mph. During indoor workouts, he was sitting at 83-86. On a nice day, the team went outside and he was at 88-91 and he was able to sustain that speed.
“I made a 10 mph jump in a four- to five-month span,” says Van Skike. “I needed those extra reps.”
Extra reps is what Van Skike got in junior college, where there is less restriction on the amount of times players and coaches can spend working on the game.
“I loved every moment of it,” says Van Skike of the juco diamond life. “You spend so many hours with your teammates and coaches. You build that brotherhood. Reflecting back, junior college baseball was the most fun for me.”
Van Skike sings the praises of junior college because it also offers a chance to develop. A juco player might get 60 at-bats in the fall between games and scrimmages and around 200 more in the spring. By the end of their sophomore year, they’ve gotten almost 500 at-bats and that doesn’t count summer ball.
Van Skike says a D-I player who does not crack the lineup as a freshman and sophomore — which is often the case — might go into their junior year with less than 100 career at-bats.
“You’ve got to play,” says Van Skike. “You’ve got to get game experience.”
Van Skike left college in 2011 unsure of his baseball future. Scout Mike Shirley (now amateur scouting director) brought him to Madison County for a workout and signed him to a White Sox contract as an undrafted free agent. He hustled to Bristol, Va., of the Appalachian League and picked up an extra-inning victory in his first outing.
His pitching coach at Bristol was Larry Owens, now head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville.
“(Owens) simplified the game for me,” says Van Skike.
Through 2013, Van Skike appeared in 73 games (64 as a reliever) and went 10-8 with a 3.18 earned run average in 150 2/3 innings. He was 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 74 innings at Advanced Class-A Winston-Salem in 2013.
“(Winston-Salem pitching coach) J.R. Perdew was a tremendous help,” says Van Skike. “He told me things I had never thought about before.
“The more simple you can keep baseball the better off you’re going to be.”
Perdew is now the White Sox assistant pitching coordinator.
Van Skike learned to use a cut fastball to be effective against left-handed hitters.
He had a six-month lease on an apartment in St. Louis and expected to be in spring training in 2014 when he was released by the White Sox. He went to live with his parents — Ike and Cathy Van Skike — in Arizona and got a job delivering pizzas. Not having a steady catch partner, he threw into a chain link fence. Occasionally, he would work out with a high school team and they had no trouble hitting his deliveries.
Still, an invitation was extended in Wichita. Even though he did not have a stellar spring training with the Wingnuts, he had enough of a resume on affiliated ball to keep him. The 2014 season saw him start 26 games and got 12-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 110 innings. He started the American Association All-Star Game and helped Wichita win the league title.
It tended to be very breezy out to left field in Wichita. Van Skike used it to his advantage.
“A lot of hitters get big egos when the wind blows,” says Van Skike. “I made my living down and away (to right-handed hitters) and got roll-overs to the shortstop.”
The 2015 campaign was not as successful (7-8, 4.89 in 116 innings) and Van Skike retired as a player.
“Getting into college coaching is extremely difficult,” says Van Skike. He went with friend Arlo Evasick, the head coach at Federal Way and the Eagles qualified for the 2016 state tournament.
That summer, Van Skike ended up back in Indiana on the coaching staff of Jackrabbits manager Matt Howard, who is now head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo.
Van Skike was starting to prepare for a chance to play pro ball in Australia when Heller let him know about an opportunity in Des Moines.
“I got extremely lucky,” says Van Skike.
David Pearson was hired as DMACC head coach and soon hired Van Skike as an assistant. The two had to dismantle the roster after the first season and went into the second year (2018) with mostly freshmen.
Near the end of that season, Van Skike began to examine his relationship with baseball.
“It consumed my life and I missed a lot of family events (as a player),” says Van Skike. “I began missing those again as a college coach.
“I need more of a balance. I didn’t know what that was at the time.”
Through a fortunate sequence of events, Van Skike moved to central Indiana and wound up taking a job as an Edward Jones financial advisor in Westfield.
He was at the right place at the right time since Westfield High School head coach Ryan Bunnell was also looking to fill a slot for a pitching coach.
“I’m still heavily involved with baseball and I can still be around my family and friends,” says Van Skike. “That’s what I was searching for.
“I’m extremely lucky I’m at Westfield.”
The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“We had an extremely talented group,” says Van Skike of a Shamrocks team that received votes in the Class 4A preseason poll. “We could’ve won state. But there’s nothing we can do to control it.
“It’s an awkward time for these seniors,” says Van Skike. “They almost don’t want to hear about baseball.
“It’s still a little tender.
“We’ve been talking with juniors and saying let’s do it next year for these seniors (in 2021). They shouldn’t complain one day. Don’t ever take things for granted.”
Jason Van Skike is a financial advisor at Edwards Jones and the pitching coach at Westfield High School, both in Westfield, Ind. The graduate of Gig Harbor High School in Washington pitched at Treasure Valley Community College Oregon and Indiana State University as well as in the Chicago White Sox organization and in independent professional baseball. (Edwards Jones Photo)
Westfield (Ind.) High School varsity baseball coaches in 2020 include (from left): assistant Bill Lindley, head coach Ryan Bunnell and assistant Jason Van Skike. Shamrocks pitchers are led by Van Skike, who played collegiately at Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon and Indiana State University and professionally in the Chicago White Sox system and with the independent Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. (Westfield High School Photo)
At Toledo, where Rob Reinstetle is head coach and Nick McIntyre (McCutcheon High School and Purdue University graduate) and Tommy Winterstein are full-time assistants, a big part of Repay’s duties is as camp director. He identifies prospects and brings them to campus. He also coordinates youth camps for the Rockets.
Before the 2020 season was cut short by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, Repay helped pitching coach Winterstein and also assisted in many administrative details, including making budgets, handling travel details and making practice plans.
“I’ve learned so much,” says Repay. “If you want to do something right and do it at a high level, it’s not just the stuff on the field.”
Repay identifies with Reinstetle’s attention to detail.
“We both know how we want things done,” says Repay.
This is Repay’s first Division I experience. For years, D-I programs have been trying to get the NCAA to approve a third paid assistant.
As a D-I volunteer, Repay would like to see the change.
“It takes to run a collegiate baseball program,” says Repay. “(Adding another paid assistant would be) rewarding people that work their tail off non-stop.
“But I knew what I was getting into this season. I have nothing to complain about. I’m 34 with wife and three children. It’s a mindset in how you approach everyday. I do not going to let no pay effect how much work or effort I put into it.”
With his Northwoods League experience, Repay is also charged with placing players with summer teams.
He notes that the Virginia-based Valley Baseball League has already opted to cancel its season because of COVID-19 concerns and other leagues are likely to follow suit, though there is hope that there will be some semblance of a summer season.
“Summer is huge in their development,” says Repay. “Baseball needs this.”
Toledo was on its spring trip in Georgia when the NCAA season was halted.
“This is an unprecedented moment in our lives,” says Repay. “Per the NCAA, we’re not allowed to instruct our guys. But keeping a constant interaction between coaches and players is very healthy thing.
“We check in with our guys to make sure their minds are right.”
Right after the shutdown, Repay thought about his baseball coaching brethren.
“I made a list of people I wanted to call and check in on to make sure everybody is healthy,” says Repay. “(Coaches are) all fighting the same fight. We’re all on stand-by.
“It’s like time has been frozen.”
Repay commends the coaches that are continuing communication and learning through Zoom conferences and podcasts etc.
“It keeps that knowledge sponge going for everybody,” says Repay. “The more we band together at this time, the stronger it’s going to be when it’s done.
“It’s people helping people at this point.”
Both his wife (Hope) and mother (Gretchen) are nurses. Hope is an LPN for ProMedica at a clinic working with mothers before and after birth.
Due to Coronavirus precautions, when Hope comes home to Sean, Nadia (9), Maddux (6) and Raeleigh (1), she launders her scrubs and showers thoroughly.
“We stay in quarantine,” says Sean Repay, who resides in Maumee, Ohio. On the few trips out of the house, the family wears masks and gloves.
Gretchen Repay is a nurse manager at Community Hospital in Munster, Ind., and works in intensive care and cardiovascular units.
“(Healthcare) workers out there are doing their best,” says Repay.“This is a serious time. We have to put baseball aside.
“What’s important is family and people’s health.”
Sean’s father, Ed, worked for years in the steel industry. Older sister Nicole is married with three children. Right now, family communication is done via FaceTime and Skype.
Throughout his career, Repay has built lasting relationships with coaches and players. Part of his “inner circle” includes Ben Reel and he still communicates frequently with the IU Southeast head coach.
“I learned so much in such a short amount of time,” says Repay of his time on Reel’s staff. “He’s helped me so much in my career.”
A right-handed pitcher during his playing days, Reel allowed Repay to run the Grenadiers pitching staff. The team won 37 games, a River States Conference regular season title and finished No. 24 in the NAIA rankings.
At Lakeland, Repay learned from then-Muskies head coach Mike Bachar.
“He let me take on every administrative role I wanted to get my hands on,” says Repay. “He was very task-oriented. There was structure. I I knew what I was going to do everyday.”
Bachar also got Repay to think even more about the academic side of collegiate baseball coaching. At the D-III level, there are no athletic scholarships so aid for academics and need really come into play.
As head coach, Bryan Moses took Antelope Valley from a club program to an NAIA power.
Repay appreciates the freedom Moses gave to a young coach.
“He let me off the leash a little bit,” says Repay of Moses, who is now head coach McPherson (Kan.) College. “He let me learn through failure.
“He was such a player’s coach and such a new-school guy. I still take ideas from that season.”
Rick Giannetti became the head coach at Dominican in 1988 and still guides the Chargers program.
“I couldn’t stay away from baseball,” says Repay. “It was a no-brainer to start putting feelers out.”
Gannetti gave him his first taste of college coaching.
“I had to flip the script real quick and change from a player to a coach,” says Repay, who suddenly was learning how to run a pitching staff and recruit D-II players.
One of his pitchers was right-hander Matt Festa, who made his major league debut in 2018 with the Seattle Mariners.
At the time, Dominican played in the only D-II district in the country to use wood bats.
“That’s the way I feel baseball was intended to be played,” says Repay.
Florence manager Dennis Pelfrey had been a coach on the staff of manager Greg Tagert at Gary and invited Repay to be his pitching coach.
“He took a leap of faith,” says Repay of Pelfrey, who now manages in the San Francisco Giants system. “There are some very good arms in (the Frontier League). They are very raw. They might be missing command, need to develop an off-speed pitch or it may be mental. My job was to push them out their door again (toward affiliated baseball or a higher independent league).”
Repay’s relationship with Tagert goes back to him coming to Gary to throw simulated games, though he never signed as a RailCats player.
Growing up in Highland, Repay was very familiar with the Gary franchise from its earliest days in the modern Northern League.
Tagert brought Repay in as a bullpen coach and he got to work with bullpen catcher Aaron Ciaburri, who now coaches at Ranchview High School in Irving, Texas.
“It was such an honor to put on that jersey and work with Greg,” says Repay of Tagert. “Gary is the New York Yankees of indy ball to me. It’s first class. Greg treats everybody with respect. The goal is to win an American Association championship and move everybody up.
“Many of my core principles come from that summer.”
Bisbee was a first-year team when Repay managed the team to a 33-30 mark.
“It was a humbling experience,” says Repay. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
In that league where five-hour bus rides and small crowds are the norm, it’s all about players working hard to chase their baseball dreams.
“You’re looking at the grinders of grinders,” says Repay.
“He was fun to play for,” says Repay of the man who still leads the Loras Duhawks. “He had a natural relationship with his players. He didn’t sugar-coat anything and installed the will to want to win.
“He’s relentless at everything he does — in a good way.”
When Repay was at Highland (2000-04), Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dan Miller was the head coach and current Trojans head coach John Bogner was an assistant.
“(Miller) came in with a plan for it everyday,” says Repay. “He was very organized. He was a very good game manager.”
Repay fondly recalls showdowns with Andrean, Lake Central and Munster and how Miller would pump up the intensity and go after the weaknesses of those teams.
“It was a culture of winning,” says Repay. “But it wasn’t forced. He trusted his players.”
Repay and Bogner have maintained communication over the years.
“He’s an amazing human being,” says Repay. “He’s trying to better his players (on the field) and in their lives.”
Sean Repay is surrounded by his family and the mascots of the summer collegiate Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Larks. Repay, a graduate of Highland (Ind.) High School, managed the Larks 2017-19 and is now a volunteer assistant at the University of Toledo. Sean and Hope have daughters Nadia (9) and Raeleigh (1) and son Maddux (6). (Bismarck Larks Photo)
Sean Repay, a graduate of Highland High School and Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, is the volunteer assistant baseball coach at the University of Toledo. He was pitching coach at Indiana University Southeast in 2019. (University of Toledo Photo)
She officially begins her duties April 1. The RailCats open the May 19 at the Sioux Falls Canaries with the home opener May 22 against the Milwaukee Milkmen. Games will air on Michigan City’s WEFM-FM 95.9.
When word got out of Hoover’s hiring, other AA broadcasters reached out.
“I always want to learn,” says Hoover, 23. “I can learn from other broadcasters. I will happily absorb all that information.”
“I am extremely young to be in this position,” says Hoover. “I want to learn from them as much as they are going to be learning through me about a broadcast. It will be a 50/50 kind of deal.
“I’m still learning and I will never stop learning.”
Why baseball broadcasting?
“I just love the sport,” says Hoover, who is already doing preparation for the upcoming season, researching players and other personnel, statistics, history and more and figuring out what she wants to put into the team’s media guide and daily media packets.
“The thing that I’m trying to add more to my broadcast is talking more to players and coaches,” says Hoover. “I want to open that line of communication and use that in the broadcast.”
Growing up in an active family with parents Terry (Andrean High School graduate) and Chris (Hammond Gavit High School graduate) and older brother Jordan (Chesterton High School graduate), Laura participated in basketball, cross country, karate, soccer, track and field and volleyball and came to decide that her best sport was swimming. She attended St. Patrick Catholic School in Chesterton before entering public school as a middle schooler.
She swam four seasons for Chesterton coach Kevin Kinel while working at the school’s student-run radio station — WSDO-FM 88.3 — under the supervision of teacher Matthew Waters. She juggled her swim workouts with her studies and her radio duties, which included studio shifts and play-by-play for football, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and softball.
“I never played baseball and softball,” says Hoover, a 2015 Chesterton graduate. “I’m a student of the game. (Regional Radio Sports Network president/founder) Paul Condry keeps reminding of that.”
Early time spent in the baseball press box was definitely a learning experience for Hoover.
“I did not know how to keep a book,” says Hoover. “I learned that very quickly.”
A drawback of calling baseball for the Chesterton Trojans is that her broadcast partner would sometimes not show up.
That was not a problem in college, where she also took the mic for soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball.
“People showed up to help me broadcast and it just kind of took off,” says Hoover. “I learned how to do it and enjoyed doing it.
“It turned out being one of the sports I love to broadcast the most. I decided to make a life out of it.”
Hoover saw broadcasting as a way to cope with her natural timid nature.
“I was always a really shy kid,” says Hoover. “Speaking behind a mic, you’re never physically face-to-face.
Then came the chance to broadcast.
“I might might as well go do it,” says Hoover. “I tried it out and loved it.
“I decided to pursue a degree in it.”
Hoover chose Goshen for its award-winning communication department, featuring assistant professor Jason Samuel and associate professor Kyle Hufford.
GC has produced many professional sports broadcasters, including Benjamin Kelly (now with the Northwest Naturals in the Kansas City Royals organization and the SEC Network) and Dalton Shetler (who works for the Spartan Sports Network on Michigan State University games).
Laura Hoover, a graduate of Chesterton (Ind.) High School (2015) and Goshen (Ind.) College (2019), has been hired as broadcaster and media coordinator for the Gary SouthShore RailCats. She spent the 2019 season calling games for the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
The Indianapolis native grew up playing multiple sports, trying to become proficient in each of them.
He competed in soccer, football, tennis, bowling and volleyball and wound up being the best at baseball and that’s what took him to various collegiate levels and now has the left-hander pitching as a professional.
Seth could walk a few blocks from Calvary to participate at the Edgewood youth league on the south side. He later played travel ball for the Adam Robertson-coached Indy Bats.
“That’s where I learned and developed at an early age,” says Hougeson of the Bats. “(Robertson) brought out my competitive side. He was a very awesome coach.
“I owe a lot to him. We still stay in-touch.”
Hougeson says competitiveness is his No. 1 strength as an athlete.
“I never give up,” says Hougeson. “I’m always trying to complete that task in front of me.
“I’m hard-working and always doing the little things right. In college, I always prided myself on PFPs (Pitchers Fielding Practice drills).
“It was about fielding my position as a pitcher and being athletic enough to get off and field that bunt and throw it to first.”
Like a fifth infielder?
“Absolutely,” says Hougeson, who turned 22 on April 25.
Indianapolis Lutheran won four sectional titles with Honor Roll Student-Athlete Hougeson on the team and head coach Dick Alter leading the Saints.
“He expected a lot,” says Hougeson of Alter. “He wanted to push you until he got what he was looking for — the best out of your every single day.
“At first, I was a little standoffish. I didn’t know how to respond to it. But, as a I grew up and I matured, it’s just kind of clicked with me. He’s not against me. He’s for me and wants the very best for me.”
Hougeson came to appreciate Alter’s years of experience and it helped groom him for college and beyond.
“I’m always looking for the most competitive baseball and trying to better myself,” says Hougeson. “I continue to get better with the higher level of competition because it continues to push me to get to that next level.”
Concordia University Wisconsin is an NCAA Division III program. In his freshmen season (2016), Hougeson earned honorable mention on the all-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference and was on the NACC all-freshman year, going 3-3 in nine mound appearances (eight starts) with a 3.35 earned run average. In 40 1/3 innings, he struck out 38 and walked nine.
Next came Dyersburg (Tenn.) State Community College. In his one season with the Eagles (2017), Hougeson was named National Junior College (NJCAA) National Pitcher of the Year after going 14-1 with a 1.49 ERA. The southpaw struck out 107 and allowed just 74 hits and 35 walks in 92 1/3 innings.
Hougeson landed at NCAA Division II Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., for his final two college seasons.
As a junior in 2018, Hougeson went 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in 12 games (eight starts) for a DSU team that went 42-11 and played in the NCAA Division II South Regional. In 35 1/3 innings, he fanned 39 and walked 22. As a senior in 2019, he made 14 appearances (10 starts) and went 9-0 with three complete games (one shutout) and a 2.44 ERA. In 59 innings, he whiffed 55 and walked 14. The Statesmen went 42-14 and played in the D-II South Super Regional.
“I went out there with no expectations,” says Hougeson. “I was just going to play the best baseball I could possibly do. If I was going to get signed by a team, I was going to be very, very grateful for that.
“If nothing happened out of the summer, I was just going to hang it up and say I gave it all I had.”
He is 15 credit hours plus an internship short of his sports management degree and plans to finish with online classes. He sees himself using his many baseball connections to get job in front office job in baseball which could lead to becoming a general manager.
Or he could follow a long family tradition and go into military service.
“I’d love to join the Air Force and become a fireman,” says Hougeson, noting that his father is currently active in the Air Force and serving overseas. Both brothers (including Caleb Hougeson, who was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as an Indianapolis Lutheran third baseman) are in the Army. A grandfather and uncle served in the Marines and a cousin is currently with that service branch. An aunt is in the Air Force.
But sports management or military service are in the future. Hougeson’s present is focused on baseball.
The southpaw pitched in three Palm Springs games and signed with Gary on June 30. That same day, he made his pro debut, tossing four shutout innings while giving up two hits with one strikeout and one walk in a no-decision start against the Kansas City T-Bones.
Altogether, Hougeson has appeared in six RailCats games (five starts) and and is 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA. In 23 innings, he has racked up nine K’s and issued nine free passes.
A 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, Hougeson possesses a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, “circle” change-up and curve ball. He usually has an over-the-top release, but sometimes drops down a little and gets arm-side run with his fastball.
Seth Hougeson, an Indianapolis Lutheran High School graduate who played college baseball at Concord University Wisconsin, Dyersburg State Community College and Delta State University, is now with the independent professional Gary (Ind.) South Shore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)