Tag Archives: American Baseball Coaches Association

Veteran baseball coach Smith assisting travel ball space with Diamond Allegiance

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

Tracy Smith became a head coach in NCAA Division I baseball at 30.
For the next quarter century, the Indiana native taught the game and developed relationships with players, families and others.
Smith grew up in Kentland — a small town of less than 2,000 folks in Newton County — learning fundamentals from Donald “Tater” Blankenship and then playing baseball and basketball for Denny Stitz at South Newton High School.
Other mentors include (college baseball coach) Jon Pavlisko, (minor league manager and coach) Brad Mills and Bill Harford, (Miami University Middleton basketball coach) Jim Sliger and (father-in-law and former MUM athletic director) Lynn Darbyshire.
Tracy and wife Jaime have three sons — Casey (as in Casey At The Bat), Ty (as in Ty Cobb) and Jack (as in Jackie Robinson) — and are grandparents.
Smith, who played at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and in the Chicago Cubs system, led programs at Miami Middletown, Miami and Indiana University — taking to the Hoosiers to the College World Series and receiving National Coach of the Year honors in 2013 — before becoming head coach at Arizona State University. Not including the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign, he took the Sun Devils to four NCAA regional appearances in six seasons. His ASU teams won 201 games.
In June 2021, Smith was let go at Arizona State. He saw it as an opportunity to focus his energy on a venture called Diamond Allegiance — an organization dedicated to reimagining travel baseball. He had been serving on its board for a couple of years.
“I looked at it as my way of giving back to help the game of baseball bigger and more impactful than maybe the 35 guys in the locker room that I’ve coached over my entire career,” says Smith of his reason for diving in full-time with Diamond Allegiance. “I’ve been working hard and pulling in some of my friends.
“You’ve got this army of former professional players and big league players that want to give back to the game as well.”
Smith, 56, is CEO for Diamond Allegiance and works with an Executive and Advisory Board committee that features current collegiate coaches Erik Bakich (University of Michigan) and Kevin O’Sullivan (University of Florida) and former Oregon State University coach Pat Casey. Matt Gerber is head of player business and development. Two-time softball gold medalist and ESPN analyst Michele Smith is also board member.
The OSU Beavers won three CWS titles on Casey’s watch (2006, 2007 and 2018) while O’Sullivan’s Gators reigned in 2017.
According to its website, Diamond Allegiance “helps members run better businesses, augments their player development capabilities, provides more career opportunities for coaches, reduces the cost for families/players, and increases participation of underrepresented communities. We generate this impact through a powerful mix of partnerships, services, technology, and philanthropy.”
Partners include Canes Baseball, the Indiana Bulls and many more.
Says Smith, who grew up playing Babe Ruth ball and for Remington (Ind.) American Legion Post 280: “As a coach you’re always on the receiving end of kids coming up through the travel ball system. I don’t want to say the system was broken because it’s not. People in the travel ball business do an unbelievable job. The industry itself has become more of a showcase/exposure industry and not as much development.
“We want to focus on the development piece.”
Diamond Allegiance, which was officially launched at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, offers a 12-month development system with text designed by Bakich that is currently not on the market.
At Chicago came the first chance for feedback from the baseball industry. High school coaches without access to travel baseball in their areas approached asking if they can tap into Diamond Allegiance resources.
“They will have access to a version of what we’re doing,” says Smith.
A predictive mechanism powered by CURVE, which creates a score taking into account brain, ball and body data that tells how high a player might go is another Diamond Allegiance perk.
Partners receive the ability to reach college conferences and coaches, push content to their coaches and team while building brand and culture. There is also access to top baseball industry leaders and the best tech providers.
Sandy Ogg, a CEO developer for Fortune 500 companies who Smith met through former Indiana University senior associate athletic director and current Diamond Sports Foundation CEO Tim Fitzpatrick, is part of Diamond Allegiance.
Members get marketing and branding services and assistance with their businesses.
“Owners can run better businesses and be more efficient in those practices,” says Smith. “They can make money that they’ll reinvest into creating and providing opportunities for kids who can’t afford to play.
“I’m very passionate and have always been very passionate about creating opportunities for kids who can’t be a part of it. When you look at our rosters over time we’ve tried to have a diverse roster. We really made a conscious effort to beat the bushes to find kids to play.”
The idea is to provide value and assistance in making important decisions.
“I see the amount of money families spend on getting their kid a college scholarship,” says Smith. “On a $5,000 college scholarship they’re spending $20,000 a year.
“We want to provide direction. It’s OK to spend that money, but let’s spend it wisely.”
Diamond Sports Foundation allows families an opportunity to apply for help to offset or — in some cases — totally fund the travel ball experience.
Diamond Allegiance will share knowledge to help guide parents and players through this recruiting process
“There’s this myth out there that if you don’t play Power Five baseball (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) that in some way, share or form you have failed. I’ve always hated that,” says Smith. “Anytime I would talk to groups, families and kids I would say every one of you can play beyond high school. There’s a place for you to do that. You just have to find the right fit.
“One of the things we’re going to be doing with Diamond Allegiance is giving families and kids true direction so that they can reach their aspiration.”
Knowing that others have attempted to do the same thing, Smith addresses question about the Diamond Allegiance difference.
“We’ve got a really, really good group of people that are passionate about making this game better,” says Smith, who has been talking with up to 10 travel programs a week. “You have people that are motivated to do right and do well by the game.
“It will not fail.”
To learn more, visit diamondallegiance.com. To apply for a partnership, email hello@diamondallegiance.com.

A video on the Diamond Allegiance organization.
Tracy Smith, former head baseball coach at Miami University Hamilton, Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), Indiana University and Arizona State University, is now CEO for Diamond Alliance, a group which assists in the travel ball world. (Arizona State University Photo)

Coaching takes Gobert to Walters State Community College

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

Nick Gobert’s baseball coaching career has taken him from a powerhouse in the Midwest to an elite program in the South.
The graduate of Jasper (Ind.) High School and the University of Southern Indiana has gone from Indian Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa, to Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tenn., which is located between Knoxville and Johnson City.
The 44-16 IHCC Warriors and 61-7 WSCC Senators both participated in the 2021 National Junior College Athletic Association Division I World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
Married in June 2021 to the former Haley Brun, Nick followed her to Tennessee when she took a job at Colgate-Palmolive in Morristown. The Kansas State University graduate had worked at the company’s plant in Richmond, Ind., while having a long-distance relationship with Gobert. The couple was introduced by a mutual friend.
When relocating, Gobert looked for a new baseball home.
“I wanted to get to a competitive place,” says Gobert. “(Coaching) wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t (Haley) believing in me. She’s been a sports fan her whole life.
“It took two years to fully understand the time commitment.”
Gobert is a volunteer assistant on the staff led by David Shelton, who earned his 400th career victory in February.
“I do a little bit of everything,” says Gobert. “I’m in charge of base running and help with infield play and hitters.”
How does his last team differ from his current one?
“Indian Hills is a pitching and defensive-minded program though we did have guys who could hit a little bit,” says Gobert. “Walters State is more offensive-minded. We have the ability to drive the baseball with guys who can impact the game with doubles and home runs.
“It’s a place kids want to come to because of the great tradition.”
Since 1984, the Senators have made 10 NJCAA World Series appearances with one championship (2006), a runner-up finish (2018) plus finishing third outright (2003 and 2015) and tying for third (2019). Former WSCC head coach Ken Campbell went into the NJCAA Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020.
While Walters State has a home field with a turf surface and many other amenities and played a fall game at the home of the Tennessee Smokies (Double-A South), there still a junior college baseball mindset.
“We still have the JUCO grind-it-out kind of guys and atmosphere,” says Gobert. “We practice quite a bit. Our mentality is that nothing is every given to us. We have to earn everything we have.”
Gobert, who turns 28 in May, appreciates the amount of time allowed at the junior college level for one-on-one instruction and evaluation.
“It’s that amount of hands-on time you get with each player,” says Gobert. “You’re watching everything and working with them. You get to connect with your players better.
“You make adjustments as needed because of those relationships.”
When Gobert is not involved with baseball activities or his wife, he earns a little extra cash as a Walters State mail courier.
Walters State, which heads into the weekend at 20-2, carries a roster of around 50 players. Among those are redshirts and players who took an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19.
“It’s an older bunch,” says Gobert. It’s big to have those guys around to help the younger (players).”
The Senators tend to use a wide variety of players in mid-week games with those competing for spots in weekend Tennessee Community College Athletic Association Region VII contests.
Gobert was an assistant to Matthew Torrez at Indian Hills. Torrez played for Tracy Archuleta at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Archuleta is now head coach at USI.
Nick is the son of Terry Gobert, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 800 victores, five state titles and four state runners-up to his credit. The two were featured together in the American Baseball Coaches Association Podcast hosted by Evansville, Ind., native Ryan Brownlee in October 2021.

Nick Gobert (Walters State Community College Photo)
Nick Gobert (Walters State Community College Photo)
Aerial view of the Walters State Community College baseball field in Morristown, Tenn. (Walters State CC Photo)

Now at St. Charles CC, Foster familiar with many levels of college baseball

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

Ryne Foster has first-hand knowledge of many forms of college baseball.
The 2004 graduate of Danville (Ind.) Community High School played for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dr. Don Brandon at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University.
Coaching stops have taken Foster to N’s Concordia University (Ann Arbor, Mich.), NCAA D-II’s Georgia Southwestern University (Americus, Ga.), National Junior College Athletic Association’s Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College, NCAA D-I’s Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and NJCAA’s St. Charles Community College (Cottleville, Mo.).
“It’s helped in the recruiting process,” says Foster of his familiarity with all those levels. “I kind of know what everybody’s talking about.”
The son of former Danville head baseball coach Rick Foster (and wife Alice) and older brother of current Cascade High School head coach Ty Foster (a 2007 Danville graduate who played four years at Manchester University for Spartans head coach Rick Espeset), Ryne Foster has been the St. Charles Cougars staff since 2018-19. He serves as associate head coach/hitting coach for head coach Jeff Bolen.
Foster, who was an assistant at Madison-Grant High School in Fairmount, Ind., before going into college coaching, was a volunteer/catchers coach for Danny Schmitz at Bowling Green, assistant/catchers coach for Mike Policastro at Cleveland State, assistant/outfielders for Bryan McLain at Georgia Southwestern and graduate assistant for Kyle Rayl at Concordia. Rayl is a former assistant at Anderson U.
NCAA D-I rules do not allow volunteers to recruit off-campus. Foster has participated in the process at all the other places he’s been.
“(Recruiting) is the most important part off the field in college baseball,” says Foster. “If you can get some good players you can do some good stuff.”
Junior college is generally a two-year experience. With the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Charles currently has 18 third-year players — 13 of which started their college careers with the Cougars.
With added years of eligibility in the NCAA and NAIA, it has many players staying in college baseball longer than anticipated. This — in turn — has trickled down to high schoolers looking for a place to play.
“There’s really quite a back log and then you put the transfer portal on top of that,” says Foster. “The talent is phenomenal at a lot of places. It seems all arms throw 90 mph or above.
“The thing that hurt the high school kids is an offer you would have gotten four or five years ago might not be there now.”
St. Charles, which is in NJCAA Division I Region 16, gets players kicking back from all levels, including NCAA D-I.
When Foster was in high school, he was aware of just one junior college baseball program in Indiana — NCJAA Division II Region 24’s Vincennes University. In 2022, there’s also NJC AA Division II Region 12’s Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne.
Missouri has 11 junior college programs (eight in NJCAA Division I and three in NJCAA Division II). Illinois sports 35 (10 in NCJAA Division I, four in NJCAA Division II and 21 in NJCAA Division III).
“Knowing what I know now I would have done everything I could to find a junior college out of high school,” says Foster, noting that there are fewer restrictions on the number of hours a week an athlete can practice or play, tuition is cheaper and there is a chance in two years to go to a school they may not have been able to attend out of high school.
“As coaches we’re able to be part of everything — academic monitoring, the weight lifting program and practice everyday with them,” says Foster. “There’s never a time other than family time I can’t work with you because you’re out of hours this week.”
“Juco Bandit” appears on many Twitter profiles. What does it mean?
“After being around it, it’s a term of pride for a lot of our guys,” says Foster. “It means a different level of toughness. Nothing handed to these guys and if it was, it was then taken away. It’s not the (NCAA) Division I life. There’s 2 and 3 a.m. leave times for a doubleheader.
“It’s a different mindset. The guys come out to play ball. That’s why they’re here.”
Foster and other St. Charles coaches do what they can to develop players for the next level.
“We move them on to good Division I and Division II programs when they’re done here,” says Foster. “We’re always making connections with coaches at that level and they’re helping us out.
“They know what kind of kids they’re getting out of junior college. They’re getting kids who are tough. It’s a big ask to come out of high school in play in the Big Ten, Big 12 or the SEC. There’s no substitute for experience.”
St. Charles plays 25 to 30 scrimmages in the fall with 56 regular-season games plus the postseason in the spring.
“We the fall for our sophomores to get exposure,” says Foster. “(Four-year school) come out and scout. We also get to see our freshmen and prepare for the spring.”
Besides his baseball duties, Foster is also in charge of the St. Charles athletic fields (baseball, softball and soccer). They are all grass.
“I starting learning with my dad being a high school coach,” says Foster. “It’s second nature. Many a spring break as a kid was spent out there getting the field ready.”
Rick Foster is head boys tennis coach and boys basketball assistant at Danville. He coached Warriors baseball almost 40 years and now helps Ty on the diamond at Cascade.
Ryne sees going into the profession as a natural.
“I couldn’t think of myself doing anything else,” says Foster. “I grew up with it. My dad was old school. You do things the right way and play hard. It’s the same way he grew up playing. Nothing too fancy.”
After playing tennis, basketball and baseball in high school (brother Ty played football, basketball and baseball), Ryne played both basketball and baseball his first two years at Anderson. In his fifth year, he came back to the Ravens basketball program.
“I love guys who play different sports (in high school),” says Foster. “They can develop so much when they can focus in one area. They have all kinds of potential.”
Foster relishes the chance to grow his baseball know-how and his network while attending the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, which meets each January (the 2022 version was in Chicago).
“You meet up with people from all over the country,” says Foster. “It’s a big fraternity. It’s pretty cool to be part of it.”
Baseball brought Ryne together with the woman he now calls his wife. He was working for Pastime Tournaments at an event in Nashville and met Nikki, who was attending down from Minnesota for a bachelorette party. Ryne and Nikki Foster were wed June 22, 2021 in a Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.
“She’s been with me through the coaching run in two different places,” says Foster. “She knows it’s not your normal 9-to-5 job.
“It’s hard to find someone who understands the work.”

Ryne and Nikki Foster (Crockette’s Images)
Ryne and Nikki Foster
Ryne, Rick and Ty Foster (Crockette’s Images)

Shafer enjoys player development as Kankakee CC assistant

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

Bryce Shafer faces a distinctive challenge as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College baseball program.
A former right-handed pitcher at Northfield High School in Wabash, Ind., and Valparaiso (Ind.) University as well as in the Chicago Cubs system and independent pro ball (Frontier Greys and River City Rascals), Shafter is preparing for his seventh season at KCC — a two-year school and a member of National Junior College Athletic Association Region 4.
“Junior college is definitely unique,” says Shafer, 33. “You’re always recruiting and trying to get your guys recruited.
“Year to year, your roster changes so much.”
As the Cavaliers get ready for the 2022 season opener on March 4 at Southeastern Illinois College, four of Shafer’s sophomore pitchers — starters Kyle Iwinski (Purdue), Matt Lelito (Toledo), Dylan Wolff (Eastern Michigan) and reliever Gavin King (Eastern Michigan) — have already made commitments to NCAA Division I schools. Three others are close to declaring their next stop. Right-handers Iwinski (Griffith) and Lelito (Andrean) and left-hander King (Bluffton) are from Indiana high schools. Righty Wolff hails went to Joliet (Ill.) West.
Since 2016, Shafer has seen 25 of his pitchers move on to four-year schools or the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Eleven to NCAA Division I; six to NCAA Division II; five to NAIA; and two (West Noble’s Waylon Richardson and Dylan Dodd) to the MLB Draft.
Richardson was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies (2018) and Dodd was selected 96th overall by the Atlanta Braves in the third round in 2021. Last spring, the Cavaliers pitching staff broke the KCC single-season strikeout record with 491.
“It’s really about development,” says Shafer. “We have something going the full year-round. “There’s pitchers’ strength and speed development in the off-season. Now we’re now getting them ready for competition.
“It’s all about developing players and getting the most out of them. Junior college is a stepping stone. We realize we’re not a destination.
Shater, who is on a staff with head coach Todd Post and hitting/catching coach Nick Ulrey (a New Palestine graduate), uses networking to find players to develop at KCC.
“As a junior college, you get told ‘no’ a lot,” says Shafer, who looks at a roster full of Illinois and Indiana players but also has a two from Canada, one from Missouri and a shortstop — Beyonce Paulina — from Curacao.
“It’s about the connections you make,” says Shafer of the recruiting process. “You watch film. Some numbers help. Velocity is always nice. We look at mechanics. Can we clean him up and make him better?
“We look at the body type. How does he move?
“We always talk to their coaches. We get their whole background and make sure there’s not any red flags.”
Kankakee coaches Shafer, Post and Ulrey all weigh in on player evaluations.
“I pride myself in being able to look at a limited amount of video to see if this kid can be successful at this level and what can we do to make them better,” says Shafer. “We want good kids from good families that get good grades and want to be better at baseball. My goal is to get our players at their highest level of baseball.”
That means teaching the physical and mental sides of the game.
“We try to put our guys in difficult situations and how to handle it,” says Shafer, who earned a Psychology degree at Fort Hayes State University. “We teach pitchers what they need to think about and to avoid things they can’t control, focus on the next pitch and the hitters’ weaknesses.”
It’s about handling adversity.
“We do a good job of that here,” says Shafer. “It’s definitely a priority.”
Shafer grew up around Wabash and played travel ball for the Summit City Sluggers, Jarrod Parker, Kyle Leindecker, Scott Woodward and Rhett Goodmiller. Parker pitched in the big leagues. Leindecker played at Indiana University, Woodward at Coastal Carolina University and indy ball and Goodmiller Central Michigan University and Taylor University.
At Northfield, Shafer helped the Norsemen to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four in 2006, and graduated in 2007. Tony Uggen, who is now in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, was his head coach.
“He was always very professional,” says Shafer of Uggen. “We had to have our shirts tucked in and look and act like ballplayers. It was a disciplined system. The basics were always there. We did things right.
“If you stay focus and disciplined the whole time, you can have a pretty good high school team.”
While he was barely 5-foot, 100 pounds, Shafer made varsity as a freshman.
“I thought I was getting cut,” says Shafer. “I had to out-work people because I was so small.”
By graduation he was 5-10 and around 150. In college, he grew to 6-1 and 185.
“I learned that you need to need to be big if you want to last,” says Shafer. “We play 56 games in 2 1/2 months at (KCC). Guys can break down if their bodies aren’t ready.”
At Valpo, Shafer played for head coach Tracy Woodson and pitching coach Brian Schmack (who is now VU head coach).
“He taught me to be calm, handle situations and embrace where you’re at,” says Shafer of Schmack. “Just remember the people — not necessarily the facilities.”
While attending the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, Shafer gravitated to mental performance presenters like Brian Cain.
“I got a lot out of it,” says Shafer. “That is the most under-accessed part of the game. To succeed at the highest level need to be mentally tough.”
Some of the books read by Shafer lately are “The Mental ABCs of Pitching: A Handbook for Performance Enhancement” by Harvey Dorfman and “The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental Emotional Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists” by James E. Loehr.
“It’s how champions think,” says Shafer. “If you can teach that to a young guy really, you’re doing something right.”
Bryce and wife Jill have two sons — Carver (4) and Callum (2).

Bryce Shafer (Kankakee Community College Photo)

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

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

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

Justin Huff (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Former UIndy assistant Hutchison now running the baseball show at Lake Erie

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

Landon Hutchison spent five seasons (2017-21) as an assistant baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis.
The former right-handed pitcher graduated from Liberty Union High School in Baltimore, Ohio, then played four seasons at the University of Rio Grande (Ohio). He followed that up with two seasons a Red Storm graduate assistant before UIndy, where he worked primarily with pitchers.
Last July, Hutchison followed former Greyhounds head coach Gary Vaught as the leader of the program at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, 30 miles northeast of Cleveland.
“I’m extremely excited for this opportunity,” says Hutchison, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “I can’t thank all the guys who coached with me (including Vaught, Al Ready and Trevor Forde at Indianapolis and Brad Warnimont at Rio Grande).”
While he was still in Indianapolis at the beginning, Hutchison started at Lake Erie in the middle of the summer recruiting season.
“I immediately started hitting the needs,” says Hutchison. “We have a very strong 2022 (recruiting class) and we got the pieces that we needed to be competitive.
“It’s looking bright for the future.”
Besides Ohio, Hutchison counts players from Indiana (Calumet New Tech’s Caleb Deel), California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Argentina, Canada and Mexico on the published roster.
Hutchison says he wants to carry a large number of players.
“Division II schools typically get more arms and having that depth helps a lot,” says Hutchison.
There is also competition with the team.
“(Players) know that there’s guys that are going to try to take their job and then next year it’s going to be the exact same way,” says Hutchison. “But I’m trying not to over-recruit and be as honest as I can during the recruiting process. The recruiting board is sitting right there for any guy that comes to visit.
“Once that position’s done, that position’s done. I don’t want a situation where I have six shortstops, 18 outfielders or anything like that. Once that (desired) number is hit that class is done.”
Through his involvement with Pastime Tournaments while in Indiana, Hutchison was able to cultivate relationships and identify some talent.
“(Pastime Tournaments president) Tom Davidson was unbelievable in helping me get to where I am now with my career,” says Hutchison. “He knew that was the end goal.”
Like UIndy, Lake Erie is an NCAA Division II school (the Storm are in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference).
The difference for Hutchison is that he now has a hand in all aspects of the team — from scheduling and travel accommodations and all facets of the game. With that in mind, he attended many ABCA Convention sessions on the position player side of things.
“The relationships are a little bit broader now,” says Hutchison, who has hired two graduate assistant and a volunteer coach to help him. “Rather than just the pitching staff and a handful of position players, it’s every guy.
“It’s been my goal to create a great culture and the guys understand that we really care about them. We’re trying to have their best interests with everything we do with the development side of things and education.
“We had one of the highest team GPA’s (last semester) that we’ve had in a long time.”
Hutchison will also be able to use technology and training aids in his new position, including products from Rapsodo, Blast Motion and Driveline.
Lake Erie is to open the 2022 season Feb. 25 in Evansville against the University of Southern Indiana.

Lake Erie College head baseball coach Landon Hutchison at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Butcher, Saint Francis gets attention of NAIA baseball world

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

When Dustin Butcher took over as head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., following the 2018 season, the former Cougar player and assistant coach (2008-17) had high hopes.
“Committed to make history” was the motto.
USF went 13-40 in his first season in charge (2019). The was followed by 10-11 in a campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic (2020).
Then came the 2021 season and a mark of 34-22 overall (a school record for single-season victories) and a 23-13 ledger in the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League.
“We’ve opened some eyes about Saint Francis baseball,” says Butcher, who an attendee at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “We’ve increased our talent pool a lot (from the best player on down). We’ve taken off and narrowed the gap.
“There’s competition across the board. I believe competition is vital.”
Butcher likes it when his No. 1 and No. 2 player at any given position are challenging each other at practice.
“Every rep matters,” says Butcher. “A guy doesn’t go get to a ball and the guy competing against you got that ball. You’re not in the weight room as much as you should be. The guy that’s beating you is in the weight room consistently.
“It’s fun to watch these guys compete their rear end off. We are going to put the guy out there that performs and we back up what we say.”
Butcher has also watched his players achieve as students.
“We had a GPA of 3.4 (as a team) this past semester and it’s consistently gone up,” says Butcher, who earned a psychology degree from USF and Masters in Psychology from Ball State University. “What’s crazy is that when you get smart kids you throw things at them a little bit different and can challenge them a little more about the game.”
Butcher has not only seen the talent pool gap shrink, but another facet has improved.
“We’ve increased our athleticism tenfold,” says Butcher. “Athletes just find ways. They move their body in different ways.”
Many Cougars were multi-sport athletes in high school.
“When they come to us and they’re just focusing on baseball and lifting like a baseball player their talent ceiling gets pushed higher and higher because it’s like they’re only focusing on one thing,” says Butcher. “I think that’s helped. I really do.”
In 2021, Butcher had Connor Lawhead and Kristian Gayday as assistant coaches and Dylan Farwell (a scout school graduate) as a student assistant who helps with strength and conditioning.
Lawhead has since gone Whitman College in Walla, Walla, Wash., and Tanner Gaff has taken his place on the staff.
“Coach Lawhead helped out tremendously with the culture as had KG,” says Butcher. “I trust them coaching my son (Nolan) and that’s the highest compliment you can pay any coach.”
Gaff has made the transition from a Saint Francis pitcher in 2021 to leading USF pitchers.
“I love the energy he has,” says Butcher. “He has done as well as I’ve ever seen to going from a player relationship with his buddies to now being their coach and there is no gray area.
“He is Coach Gaff. He does a great job of relating with the guys, but also having a plan like Coach Lawhead had.”
Other former Cougar players helping out including Kyle Baker with catcher, Brady Harris with infielders and Noah Freimuth with outfielders.
Butcher also credits the impact of assistant athletic trainer Lindsey Foust.
“She does a really good job in terms of flexibility, movement patterns and being effiicent,” says Foust. “It’s about keeping them healthy and getting them back on the field (after an injury) as soon as possible.”
Saint Francis — with 17 freshmen — is scheduled to open the 2022 season Feb. 4 at Bethel (Tenn.). The first game at Cougar Field is slated for March 4 against Crossroads League rival Huntington.

University of Saint Francis (Ind.) baseball coach Dustin Butcher at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Anderson grad Earley now guiding hitters at Texas A&M

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

Michael Earley has a knack for developing elite hitters.
Spencer Torkelson was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Arizona State University. His hitting coach was 2006 Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate Earley.
“Texas A&M hired a rising star in the coaching ranks with the addition of Mike Earley,” said former ASU coach Tracy Smith (who led the Indiana University program before his time with the Sun Devils) on the Aggies baseball website. “He is the best I’ve seen in my career at developing hitters. However, Coach Earley’s ability to build rapport by balancing toughness and genuine care for the players is what really makes him special. The Aggies are getting a good one.”
Earley, 33, played one season for Brian Cleary at the University of Cincinnati, three for Smith at Indiana and spent five in the Chicago White Sox system and one in independent ball. He coached in the Pac-12 Conference at Arizona State for five seasons — the last four as hitting coach — and was hired in mid-June of 2021 to mold hitters for Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference.
“I could’ve stayed at Arizona State, but I wanted to explore and see what else was out there,” says Earley, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “I talked to a few schools and ended up at Texas A&M. I could not be happier. It’s been a really, really fun time and a great experience.
“Head coach Jim Schlossnagle was a big draw for me. I think he’s the sharpest guy in the game and he’s someone I want to learn from and work for.”
Earley hit the recruiting trail right after joining the Aggies staff. Recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain directed hitters his way.
“He’s really, really good at finding talent and how to communicate,” says Earley of Cain. “I try to help him as much as I can.”
Coming to College Station and the Brazos Valley with his own ideas on hitting, Earley has also incorporated offensive ideas from Schlossnagle.
“It’s evolving every year,” says Earley. “I don’t think I’ve ever been quite the same every year though its the same base and foundation.
“I mean it’s (NCAA) Division I baseball. The SEC is a step up from the Pac-12, but there’s a lot of good teams and players in the Pac-12 as well. It’s not going to be anything too much different. It’s really a lot of hard work.”
Earley enjoyed his time with Torkelson, a right-hitting third baseman in the Detroit Tigers organization.
“He’s by far the best hitter I’ve work with to date,” says Earley. “If I ever work with one that again it will be like hitting the baseball lottery.
“He’s a generational talent for me. What separates him is not only is he just really, really good, he’s more competitive than anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant type. I’m gonna beat you and you’re not gonna beat me.”
The year before Torkelson went was the top pick in the draft, lefty-hitting outfielder Hunter Bishop was taken out of ASU with the 10th overall pick by the San Francisco Giants.
Arizona State has elite baseball facilities and so does Texas A&M, which plays in Blue Bell Park. Renovations are on the way for a stadium built in 2012.
“The SEC has become an arms race,” says Earley, who says new seating is coming along with a fresh hitting facility and weight room. “This place is already really, really nice.
“I don’t know how we’re going to upgrade it but we are and it’s going to be bigger and better. And then — I’m sure — in another 15 years we’ll probably do it all over again.”
Besides Schlossnagle, associate head coach Nate Yeskie, Cain and Earley as coaches, there’s a support that with a director of baseball operations (Jason Hutchins), director of player and program development (Chuck Box), sports performance coach (Jerry McMillan) and director of video and analytics (Will Fox).
Earley says analytics are very helpful when used the right way.
“You don’t want paralysis by analysis,” says Earley. “You find what works for you. There’s definitely a benefit in the game for analytics, but there’s an old word called competing and that can’t get lost.”
Nolan Earley, Michael’s brother, is a 2009 Anderson High graduate who played three years at the University of Southern Alabama and in the White Sox organization and independent ball (He played 96 games for the Frontier League Southern Illinois Miners in 2021). He is in Arizona running the Phoenix Hit Dogs.
“It’s a development-first travel program,” says Michael Early of the organization started in 2020. “Everyone says they are, but they’re actually not. They’re just trying to win and get the trophies. We’re actually trying the develop and I think it’s a success.”

Texas A&M assistant baseball coach Michael Earley at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Broughton enjoys coaching life as Clemson volunteer

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

Jared Broughton is heading into his ninth season as a college baseball coach in 2022.
It will be his third as a volunteer assistant at Clemson (S.C.) University on the staff of Tigers head coach Monte Lee.
Broughton, 32, is a 2008 graduate of Indianapolis Lutheran High School (where he played for uncle Dick Alter) and played at Vincennes (Ind.) University and University of Dayton.
He began his coaching career at two NCAA Division III schools — first Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., then Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga. (2017-19).
What’s the D-I volunteer life like?
“I would say it’s great because I can really focus on just coaching the players,” says Broughton, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “It’s kind of great to be at a place like Clemson being a volunteer because I just really show up and I’ve got some of the best players in the country to work with.”
The Atlantic Coast Conference member went 25-27 overall and 17-11 in the ACC in 2021. The 2022 season is to open Feb. 18 at home against Indiana University. Clemson is to visit Notre Dame April 8-10.
While Broughton does not directly involved in recruiting, he does help facilitate campus visits and shows them around the baseball facility which features Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Broughton coordinates baseball camps at Clemson (the next one begins Jan. 16) and that is the primary source of his income.
As now structured, NCAA D-I baseball has three paid coaches — head coach and two assistants. Volunteers put in as many — if not more hours — than anyone on the staff.
“The last few years there’s been some really big-time coaches that have spoken up about it and how we’re underfunded and that the (full-time) coach-to-player ratio is the lowest in any sport.
“I think that with more conversation and more awareness for what volunteers out there do it’s going to help when legislation comes up again.”
Having coached in the D-I and D-III worlds, what does Broughton see as the big differences?
“It’s just what motivates a player,” says Broughton. “At the ACC level and a Clemson, our guys are very motivated by becoming professionals and their development is huge. Eventually, they have the ability and dream about becoming a Major League player.
“In Division III, a lot of kids are there as a student because they want to go to that particular school. They’re there to play baseball for the love of the game.”
Even with the differences, Broughton says players at Clemson face some of the same matters they do at Earlham or Piedmont.
“They’re still 18 to 22 years old and they’re battling confidence issues and flaws in their game,” says Broughton. “At the D-I level, especially at a place like Clemson, we have an amazing budget and technology and there is the manpower. At the small college level, you wear a lot of hats within the program.”
Besides a coaching staff of Lee, Broughton, Bradley LeCroy and Andrew See, Clemson’s baseball support staff includes a director of operations (Brad Owens), director of player development (Ben Paulsen), special assistant to the head coach (Matt Heath), athletic trainer (Travis Johnston), strength and conditioning coach (Rick Franzblau), director of equipment (Mike Wilson), bullpen catchers (Carter Fricks and Barrett Winter) and student managers (Tommy Tsimbinos, Bryson Gault, Jake Machado, Wilson Mullis and Bowen Gault).
While these other folks can’t hit fungos, throw batting practice or do other coaching on the field, they are valuable. They’re like another set of eyes and help break down data for coaches and players.
Time will tell, but Broughton does allow himself to peer into the future.
“I definitely have aspirations to be a head coach,” says Broughton. “I want to stay at the Division I level right now. That’s kind of where it’s at. I really do love the competition. I love the caliber of players I get to work with.
“I’m trying to take advantage of this great opportunity.”

Clemson University volunteer assistant baseball coach Jared Broughton at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

For Anderson U. coach Bair, it’s about more than what happens on the field

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

Matt Bair has been head baseball coach at his alma mater — Anderson (Ind.) University — for four seasons.
Save 2020 in which the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the campaign to nine games, the Ravens have averaged 23 victories and qualified for the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) postseason each time with Bair in control.
Anderson produced the HCAC Pitcher of the Year (John Becker) in 2018 and HCAC Player of the Year (Joe Moran) in 2019.
The ’21 Ravens went 23-19 overall, 20-17 in the conference and 14-7 on Don Brandon Field.
Those are accomplishments, but it’s not what Bair (who earned his bachelor’s degree in Education at AU in 2001 and his Master’s degree in Athletic Administration from at Ball State University in 2005) hangs his hat on.
“More than anything you just want to instill a great culture and great chemistry into these guys and give them a unified vision that we can get behind as a program,” says Bair, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “We try to give them some missions that they can focus on every single day. As much as anything, I just try to show them how much I love them beyond the field of play. I feel like we’ve been able to do that successfully within the program.
“At the same time we’ve been able to bring in some really talented recruits.”
Anderson opens the 2022 season Feb. 12 at Sewanee (Tenn.). Games are slated against Otterbein, Wittenberg and Concordia Chicago Feb. 25-26 at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. The first home game is to be March 5 against St. Norbert.
All the while the words of former Ravens coach — Dr. Don Brandon — echoes.
“The best is yet to come,” says Bair of the Hall of Famer’s motto. “We’ve got guys who believe the best is on the horizon. But they love where they are. They know they’re surrounded by people that love them and who think about them more than just baseball players.
“They’re in a great place where they can grow personally, professionally and as a player.”
There are 41 players on the current published roster and all but one has a hometown in Indiana. The backgrounds are varied and so is the knowledge.
“We want to bring guys into our program that don’t necessarily think just like we think,” says Bair. “We like to be challenged. We’re looking for recruits who fit the core skill sets of what we think can be a championship-caliber player.
“More importantly, they have the character that we’re looking for in an Anderson University baseball player. We want guys with really high competitive motors but, ultimately, they care as much about their teammates, the game and the love of the process that they’re going through as they do themselves.”
The Ravens are part of NCAA Division III.
“D-III is kind of a unique model,” says Bair. “We get them for a certain period of time in the fall. Then you don’t totally set them free, but you’re not having daily interactions with them. They’ll send you a text or a phone call, but you’re not coaching them for awhile.
That’s where self-motivators and some leaders come in, guiding the team until they get back together with coaches in January.
To help AU players prepare for this phase, they are in classroom sessions and learning about this mentality.
“When they do have some time that’s on their own they’re not lost and still feel that the time can be well-spent,” says Bair. “I think it’s important that the onus falls on them because that is life.
“When they leave Anderson University there’s not going to be a person standing there telling them why, where and how. They’re going to have to be able to go out and self-create and self-motivate, punch through the red tape at times to get what it is that they want.”
The goal is for the student-athlete to receive a degree in four years. It is a balancing act with time for classes and studying as well as games and practices.
“We work and collaborate academically and athletically,” says Bair. “I know they relationships I have with those professors and how hard they work to allow our guys flexibility in their day and in their schedule so that they don’t feel torn between the two.”
For the most part, classes are complete by 3 p.m., making way for team practice. But sometimes small groups for pitchers or hitters will meet in blocks during the day to get in work.
“We set it up that way to be done with practice in plenty of time for them to get on with their evening and — you know — enjoy campus life and be able to study, take care of their diet and nutrition, and get the rest they need.”

Anderson (Ind.) University head baseball coach Matt Reida at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)