Tag Archives: Arizona Diamondbacks

Rawlings Tigers South Bend serving travel players from northern Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Looking to provide opportunities for development and exposure in elite travel baseball tournaments while keeping area players in the area, a group of coaches established a Rawlings Tigers outlet in South Bend, Ind.

Coached by Scott Quinn, Kevin Putz and Jason Robbins, the Rawlings Tigers 16U South Bend team participated in five tournaments in its initial season of 2020. The team won the Perfect Game Baseball Association Mid-American Classic. The squad plays mostly in Perfect Game and Prep Baseball Report events, many of which are invitation-only.

Quinn, who once owned the South Bend Bandits travel organization, decided to affiliate with the Rawlings Tigers — a group with teams in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Southern Indiana and 27 other states — for name recognition and a commitment to top-flight training and competition, which is part of the Rawlings Tigers culture.

“We were tired of seeing players head to Indianapolis to play in bigger tournaments,” says Quinn, who played at South Bend Riley High School, graduating in 1995, and Spoon River College in Canton, Ill. “We all believe in the practice aspect instead of just show up-and-play the games.

“We wanted the same experience the kids in the Indy area have.”

That means off-season training and the opportunity to build team chemistry since the ideal Rawlings Tigers South Bend roster has no more than 14 and no pitch-only players on the roster and players have multiple responsibilities.

“We’re looking for kids who can play both ways,” says Quinn. “You don’t get better at playing this game by watching it. You get better by playing it

“(Players) need to be on the field and participating in every aspect of the game.”

The Rawlings Tigers South Bend’s roster consists of northern Indiana players. 

“Most of our kids know each other off the baseball field,” says Quinn. “We have an abundance of high schools in a small area.

“It all seems to mesh really well.”

There is an emphasis on hustle and unity as well as workouts.

“Effort and team can beat talent any day of the week,” says Quinn. “We tend to practice more than most (travel) teams.

“We’re looking for players that are really committed and want to take that next step. We expect a lot of our players. They must maintain at least a 3.3 GPA. The amount of work we put it is second to none.”

A group tryout for next season was already held at Mishawaka (Ind.) High School. Quinn says individual tryouts can be scheduled.

With many multi-sport athletes, Rawlings Tigers South Bend preseason baseball and strength workouts begin in December at RBIs Unlimited in Mishawaka

“We have a lot of practices and do a lot of running to get ready for the next season and to prepare players to make the varsity at their high schools,” says Quinn.

The hope is that the 2021 Rawlings Tigers South Bend season will include up to eight tournaments at either the 16U or 17U level. 

There will be a PBR National Championships qualifier at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Qualifiers will compete in the nationals at LakePoint in Georgia. There will also be Perfect Game events in the Toledo, Ohio, area as well as PG’s World Wood Bat Association tournaments.

“I’m a big believer in doing training with a wood bat,” says Quinn. “The sound (crack vs. ping) tells you whether you hit the ball correctly or not.”

Putz (Class of 1991) and Robbins (Class of 1990) are both graduates of South Bend Washington High School, where they played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski

Putz played at Triton College in River Grove, Ill., and New Mexico State U.

Robbins, who is Quinn’s brother-in-law, was a right-handed pitcher at Wake Forest University and in the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks systems, including the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks for manager Dick Scott.

Quinn considers it a privilege to now be coaching with Putz and Robbins.

“I grew up watching them play,” says Quinn.

In seventh grade, Quinn began a long relationship with John Nadolny. He would play for him at Riley and his son — Konner Quinn (Class of 2023) — plays for Nadolny at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind.

“He’s a big influence on my career as a player and coach,” says Quinn of the man they call Nud.

Konnor Putz is also on the Rawlings Tigers South Bend.

The Rawlings Tigers South Bend 16U team won the Perfect Game Baseball Association Mid-American Classic in 2020. It was the first season for the travel team. The Rawlings Tigers have teams in 28 teams and bases. Other bases in Indiana include Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Southern Indiana.

Columbus East, Franklin College grad Claycamp gets pro ball opportunity in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Claycamp began playing baseball at 3.

The Columbus, Ind., native had a pretty good idea might be on the diamond at 23.

But when his workouts before professional coaches and scouts did not yield an offer, he figured his baseball would come in an adult amateur league.

Claycamp played in a few games in one such circuit in Indianapolis when a unique pro opportunity arose.

He completed a paid internship in the purchasing department at Faurecia USA from the fall of 2019 to the spring of 2020. In December 2019, he earned his degree in History.

More than a year after his college eligibility ran out and eight months after getting his degree Claycamp signed to participate in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail — a co-op pro league. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing cancellation of the independent Frontier League and Low Class-A South Atlantic League seasons for 2020, a league was formed with two teams each in Lexington (Legends and Leyengas) and Florence (Y’alls and Freedom).

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.

Other Indiana players in The Battle include Drew Ellis, Jeff Thompson, Walker Talcott, Will Baker, Joe Dougherty and Nick Floyd.

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.

So far, Claycamp has played left field, third base and first base for the 2020 Lexington Legends, who counts Eddie Brooks as manager with former pro scout Steve Chandler as well as Chad Martin and Dom Fucci as coaches.

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).

Lance Marshall is Franklin’s head coach.

“Coach Marshall’s awesome,” says Claycamp. “He’s very much a player’s coach.

“He lives and breathes baseball. He gets very in-depth with a lot of things. He’s talked more about the little things in baseball than anybody I’ve ever been around.”

But as important as the sport is, it’s not the top thing on Marshall’s list.

“From Day 1, he makes it very clear that it’s faith, family, baseball then school,” says Claycamp.

At East, Claycamp played for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz.

“It was a good program,” says Claycamp. “We always had a lot of good talent. They were guys I grew up playing with.”

Among them were Peyton Gray, Cam Curry, Will Anderson, Brian Wichman and Christian Wichman.

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 Battle of the Bourbon Trail is a baseball co-op between Florence and Lexington in Kentucky. (Florence Y’alls/Lexington Legends Image)
Sam Claycamp played three baseball seasons at Franklin (Ind.) College, landing on the all-time Top 10 in several offensive categories. (Franklin College Photo)
Sam Claycamp played shortstop at Franklin (Ind.) College for three seasons (2017-19). He is a graduate of Columbus (Ind.) East High School. (Franklin College Photo)
Sam Claycamp was a .354 hitter in his three baseball seasons at Franklin (Ind.) College (2017-19). The Columbus (Ind.) East High School and FC graduate is now playing in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail pro league with the Lexington (Ky.) Legends. (Franklin College Photo)

Logansport’s Titan Bat Company making it mark in industry

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s a story of faith, community, perseverance and quality. 

Partners Trampas Young and Todd Stephens have kept grinding to get Titan Bat Company where it is today. 

Before there was a business, Young hand-carved bats in the garage at his Logansport, Ind., home.

First, it was miniatures. Then came a gamer for son Baylee Young (who will be a senior on the Goshen (Ind.) College team in 2020-21).

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.”

A year ago, David Cook of Hoosier Bat Company in Valparaiso, Ind., approached Titan about producing its labeled bats.

“He saw Trampas’ craftsmanship and that validated our brand,” says Stephens.

While they have not yet been certified for Major League Baseball, which means an inspection of bats and facility plus a $30,000 fee, Titan bats are being used by independent professional ball (including the American Association and Frontier League) and by amateur players (travel ballers including the Propsects National Team in Texas and training facilities like PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., and Pro X Athlete Development and RoundTripper Sports Academy, both in Westfield, Ind.) from youth through college (including the College Summer League at Grand Park and Prospect League). 

The Titan has been tested by former big leaguers Johnny Damon and Mike Sweeney as well as current Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Andy Young. Former Indiana State player Young stroked a double off Houston Astros right-hander Enrique Abreu for his first MLB hit Aug. 4.

The Logansport factory has two hitting cages so a bat can be both crafted and tested on-site.

When Titan gets the green light to be used by the MLB, it won’t mean a switch.

“We would not change a thing we’re doing as far as quality, 

Titan also makes award bats for teams, companies and causes.

The bats have been used to recognize a sales “Quota Buster,” the memorial for Abigail Williams and Liberty German in Delphi, Ind., and as an auction item for a Marines Corps scholarship fund.

Young notes that one bat supports a dozen or more small businesses. Among those is Tina Buch of Tate’s Laser Engraving in Kokomo, Ind

There’s been plenty of learning the last six years.

“When he and I started this we did not have the support of a bigger company,” says Stephens. “We had to figure out everything on our own.”

Titan is basically a two-man operation in Logansport with Young and Stephens also working full-time jobs.

“It’s a part-time job with full-time hours,” says Young. “But for me it’s not even work, it’s part of my life.”

It’s not been unusual for Young and Stephens to take vacation days, weekends or late nights to knock out an order.

Stephens says grinding has gotten the partners to this point.

“It cost more than we thought,” says Stephens. “You have to have passion to get through the tough stuff.

“It helps to have a business partner who’s on the same page with a passion for baseball and a passion for the process.”

To get where it’s at, Titan has taken on investors — businessmen Dan Rose of Lafayette, Ind., and Phil Williams of Kokomo and Indiana State athletic director Sherard Clinkscales in Terre Haute, Ind.

“He has a ton of connections,” says Carmel, Ind., resident Stephens of Clinkscales, a former pro player and scout and college coach.

Williams has been handling social media for Titan.

It was important to keep the business in Logansport with its rich baseball history.

“They believe in fundamentals and how to play the game,” says Stephens, who attended a recent Berries alumni game with former LHS coaches Jim Turner Sr., Jim Turner Jr., and Rich Wild.

A Titan bat costs $100 to $160 with the higher end being a customized stick. Young says a metal bat can cost up to $500.

Stephens notes that the advantage of a Titan bat is immediate feedback. It has about a six-inch sweet spot — considerably less than a metal or composite club.

Titan is also experimenting on a concept from Hoosier that is a three-piece bat with maple, hickory and birch. Hickory is the hardest wood but can’t be used for the whole bat because it’s too heavy.

Want a Titan Bat Company product? Use promo code “TITAN15” and get 15 percent off a custom bat.

Trampas Young of Titan Bat Company in Logansport, Ind., makes a bat with a MotionCat CNC machine. (Steve Krah Video)
The first gamer bat hangs in a place of honor at Titan Bat Company in Logansport, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Faith is a key component at the Titan Bat Company of Logansport, Ind. It became an LLC in 2014 with partners Trampas Young and Todd Stephens. (Steve Krah Photo)
Todd Stephens (left) and Trampas Young are partners in the Titan Bat Company in Logansport, Ind. They both played baseball at Logansport High School and now produced hand-carved bats. (Steve Krah Photo)
In 2000, the Titan Bat Company — which is Trampas Young (left) and Todd Stephens — moved to a 5,000-foot facility in Logansport, Ind. The company uses only Prime wood to put out their hand-carved products. (Steve Krah Photo)

Pro X allows players to develop at Grand Park

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bringing instructors, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning experts under one roof, Pro X Athlete Development serves clients in Westfield, Ind.

Pro X (short for “Professional Experience”) celebrated its grand opening at it Grand Park facility in April 2019 after getting started in a temporary downtown location in 2017.

“We want to provide an all-inclusive training experience for our athletes,” says Joe Thatcher, former major league pitcher, co-founder and president at Pro X. “We provide sports performance so athletes can get bigger, stronger and faster. We have rehabilitation with Dr. Jamey Gordon. We have sports-specific instruction (for baseball, softball, golf and football).”

Thatcher, a Kokomo, Ind., native who worked with Gordon (who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as partner and Director of Athletic Development at Pro X) during his baseball playing career, wanted to replicate what he experienced in the majors.

“Everyday I walked into the clubhouse the coaching staff, training staff and strength staff knew what I was doing,” says Thatcher, who last pitched for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2016.

Pro X staffers, which include instructors Jay Lehr, Bryan Chestnut, Jaylen Quarles, Alex Graman, Jordan Estes and Zeth Tanner, share notes on athletes. One might have a hip mobility that does not allow a player to do what an instructor is asking of them.

“We take any physical limitations barrier and it leads to better success in baseball training,” says Thatcher. “One of the stigmas is that we’re an indoor baseball facility. We are about true athlete development.”

Using the latest innovations in the field, Pro X develops a plan for each athlete while working to keep them healthy.

“We make sure you’re moving the way you’re supposed to while getting bigger, faster and stronger so your body can handle more force,” says Thatcher. “You have to decelerate or you’re going to get hurt.

“That only happens if you’re training the right set of muscles to do that.”

During the winter, Pro X has 10 to 15 professional players working out at the elite facility which features 60,000 square feet in total with over 35,000 square feet of open turf space, 22 batting cages (11 full), 3,000 square-foot weight room, golf simulators and much more.

“The sports rehabilitation/training area is the heart and soul of who and what we are,” says Thatcher of the place where athlete assessments and private-pay rehab sessions are performed. There’s a full strength staff.

Catcher Tucker Barnhart and right-hander pitcher Drew Storen, who both went to Brownsburg (Ind.) High School, have trained at Pro X as has Chicago White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon and Kansas City Royals right-hander Jesse Hahn

Rodon, who resides in Veedersburg, Ind., did his Tommy John surgery recovery at Pro X.

This past week, former Southport High School and current Arizona Diamondbacks minor league left-hander Avery Short was pitching live to hitters on the Pro X turf.

“It’s fun to work with high-end athletes,” says Thatcher. “But our focus is capturing the young kids and starting them early.

“We want level the playing field for kids in the Midwest who don’t get to play all year-round. We’re exposing them to the training and all the innovations that’s out there.”

With a Diamond Sports Membership at Pro X, clients can have unlimited access to cages and turf. 

A Sports Performance Membership allows holders to attend all classes, including Weight Room 101 Transition. It starts with athletes around 7 and goes all the way up. 

A Diamond Plus Membership combines Diamond Sports and Sports Performance.

Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments partnered to sponsor the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in 2020.

“We saw an opportunity,” says Thatcher of a circuit that gave a place for several players displaced by the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down summer leagues. “We threw it together in about a month. It took a lot of work to get it up and running and a lot of flexibility with state regulations and COVID-19.”

About 100 players took advantage of a play-and-train option which allowed them to play in games — usually on Mondays and Tuesdays at Grand Park with occasional games at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis or Kokomo Municipal Stadium on other days — and train at Pro X Wednesday through Friday.

“(The CSL) is centrally-located which can be an advantage for us,” says Thatcher. “We’ve had a lot of really good feedback from college coaches who had kids in our league.

“We’re already starting to work on next year.”

The league has also featured players who graduated from high school in 2020.

“They’ve got to see what (college baseball is) going to be like,” says Thatcher. “They get on the field with the same field of guys you’re going to be competing against.”

The No. 5-seeded Turf Monsters bested the No. 2 Snapping Turtles 5-4 in the inaugural CSL championship game contested Friday, July 31 at Victory Field.

Julian Greenwell (two), Ethan Vecrumba, Jake Plastiak and Kollyn All drove in runs for the Turf Monsters (10-7-5).

Tyeler Hawkins scored a run on a wild pitch. Sam Crail, Brodey Heaton and Brendan Hord plated a run apiece for the Snapping Turtles (11-7-4).

Reese Sharp, who did not give up a hit until the sixth inning, was the winning pitcher. Cameron Pferrer earned a two-out save. Arian Coffey absorbed the loss.

Joe Thatcher is the co-founder and president of Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. The Kokomo, Ind., native pitched in the majors. His last pro team was the 2016 Iowa Cubs. (Chicago Cubs Photo)
The 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park was won by the Turf Monsters with a 5-4 win Friday, July against the Snapping Turtles at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis. (College Summer League at Grand Park Image)
Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., offers a “Professional Experience” for all members, including Diamond Sports (baseball and softball). The facility is located at Grand Park. (Pro X Athlete Development Image)

At all his coaching stops, Ratcliffe emphasizes hard work, character

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Ratcliffe helped change the mindset in his return to the Trine University baseball coaching staff.

Ratcliffe had helped Thunder head coach Greg Perschke during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and assisted in school-record 25-win seasons then went back to the high school ranks before coming back on board in Angola, Ind., for 2020.

Trine, an NCAA Division III school with a 40-game regular-season limit, averaged 17 wins per year from 2014-19 with high-water marks of 19 in 2017 and 2018.

That was not considered good enough.

So the Thunder went to work in the fall.

“We have our limits when we can and can’t be with them,” says Ratcliffe referring to NCAA D-III contact rules. “But there are expectations from Coach Perschke. His passion for the kids is electric. It just gets everybody.

“There’s an off-season weight program. Kids work around their academics to get a workout in.”

The message is clear: If you want the team to get better, this is what has to happen. Here’s how you do it. Do you want to be a part of that?

At a school full of engineering students and others with rigorous majors, the find a way to get the job done.

“We give them a lot of instruction during our weeks,” says Ratcliffe. “They take this and work hard in the off-season.”

Brought in to help with catchers, infielders and hitters and be a bench coach during games, Ratcliffe says there’s a difference between high school and college that has do with more than age.

“Kids at the college level want to be there instead of doing something in high school,” says Ratcliffe. “Development is extremely different. In high school, you’re developing their skills. In college, you’re fine-tuning their skills.”

Through conversations and short videos, Perschke (Trine head coach since 2002 and the Thunder’s pitching coach) and assistants Ratcliffe and Nick Pfafman provided instruction for a month and then the team’s veterans led a few more weeks of workouts heading into the winter.

“We developed a mindset of how to react and respond to things,” says Ratcliffe. “It’s one of the things I was brought in for.”

When the team came back from Christmas break it had less than a month before its first games. 

Trine went 1-2 Feb. 22-23 in Kentucky then 8-0 March 1-6 in Florida.

Then — suddenly — the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Thunder gathered for an impromptu team photo after a practice and said their goodbyes.

“It was a huge gut punch,” says Ratcliffe. “We had eight seniors (Tony Bottone, Caleb Deiter, Jacob Douglass, Chase Hall, Shawn Ligocki, Nick Ricci, Thomas Rivet and Jake Roddy) that took to this year’s culture. No longer was 18 wins a good year.”

Trine was chosen to finish seventh in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association preseason poll, but seemed to be a on a path that would put them in the MIAA’s top four and a playoff berth.

This summer, Ratcliffe is head coach for the 17U DeKalb County Thunder travel team. His assistant is Cody Krumlauf, a graduate of DeKalb High School and Earlham College who has been a player and coach for the Quakers.

The program was started a few years ago when the players were at the 15U level. The Thunder now also fields 15U and 13U teams.

To be eligible to play for the Thunder, players must play in community baseball organizations in Auburn, Butler, Garrett or St. Joe.

The 17U Thunder is a showcase team for college exposure and plays in events put on by Pastime Tournaments, Crossroads Baseball Series and at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.

Ratcliffe was head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School for two stints totaling 13 seasons (2000-06 and 2014-19).

He served as an assistant to DeKalb High head coach Chris Rhodes 2007-11 and was on the staff of Keith Potter at Fort Wayne’s Homestead High School 1997-99.

While with the Spartans, Ratcliffe got to work with future big league catcher Rob Bowen.

“I remember he was a starter working on being a switch hitter,” says Ratcliffe. “If he hit 50 balls off the tee right-handed, he had to hit 50 left-handed. Balance had to be there if h was serious about being a switch hitter.”

Ratcliffe recalls that Bowen hit homers from both sides of the plate early in his minor league days and went on to play in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Caleb Kimmel, who went on to play at Valparaiso University and is now CEO of the World Baseball Academy, was also at Homestead when Ratcliffe was on staff.

Summers from 2002-14 for Ratcliffe meant coaching and evaluating young players for USA Baseball through Tournament of Stars and National Team Identification Series programs. Working in Joplin, Mo., and later Cary, N.C., he got to be around rising diamond stars as teenagers, including Mike Moustakas, Freddie Freeman, Mike Trout, Trevor Bauer, the Upton boys (Justin and B.J.) and Jarrod Parker.

“(Moustakas) had the same kind of energy as a 17-year-old that he did (with the Kansas City Royals) in the World Series. 

“That guy has not changed one bit. He’s such a team player.”

Freeman became of Ratcliffe’s favorites.

“His character in the dugout was unbelievable,” says Ratcliffe of the future Atlanta Braves first baseman. “He was very coachable. Freddie wanted to get better. 

“I’ve told my players this is what you need to be like. It’s not all about baseball. Character is very crucial.”

Trout and Bauer are superstars now. But they didn’t make the national team back then. They didn’t sulk. They put in the work to get better.

The Uptons also failed, but learned from those around them and rebounded. Justin’s path to The Show included 113 games with the 2006 Mark Haley-managed South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks during his 18-year-old season.

While they were nearly two decades apart, Ratcliffe (Class of 1990) and Parker (2007) were both graduates of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind.

Ratcliffe had coached against right-handed pitcher Parker in high school and saw him help Norwell to an IHSAA 3A state championship in 2007.

When it came time for Parker to take the mound that summer Joplin, Ratcliffe offered a little advice: “Go be yourself.”

Parker went on to work out with the Top 40 players in Atlanta and was selected in the first round (No.9 overall) of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in the bigs for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. David Price and Moustakas went 1-2 in the ’07 draft.

Ratcliffe’s head coach at Norwell was Stan Reed.

“He had compassion for the players,” says Ratcliffe. “He really cared about us. It showed whether we won or lost.”

A catcher, Ratcliffe went to Purdue University and was redshirted his first season and played sparingly for Boilermakers coach Dave Alexander in his second, though he did get to catch Sherard Clinkscales, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the first round of the 1992 MLB Draft, later scouted for Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Kansas City and coached at Notre Dame before going into athletic administration. 

Clinkscales was associate then senior associate athletic director at North Carolina State and is now AD at Indiana State University.

When Alexander left Purdue to become a scout and pitching coach Steve Green was promoted to head coach, he had a chat with Ratcliffe. It was apparent he was not going to get to play much for the Boilers.

“I was a kid who needed to play,” says Ratcliffe, who was released and allowed to sign at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where Matt Kinzer was the Mastodons head coach.

What did Ratcliffe learn from Norwell grad Kinzer during the 1993 and 1994 seasons?

“It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level,” says Ratcliffe. “If you want to get there you’ve got to put some time in. 

“Talent doesn’t get you to the next level. It takes things like working hard and having good character.”

By the time Tom Muth took over at IPFW in 1995, Ratcliffe knew he wanted to be a coach so he took the opportunity to play multiple positions and learn their nuances. Since the Dons were in need of a second baseman, Ratcliffe moved there and still took time to catch bullpens.

Ratcliffe played independent professional ball as a middle infielder for the Frontier League’s Richmond (Ind.) Roosters in their inaugural season of 1995. Larry Nowlin was the manger and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate part owner.

One of his teammates was future major league switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter Morgan Burkhart. When he came to Fort Wayne as a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff, Ratcliffe made sure he found a good fishing hole.

After finishing his degree at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ratcliffe became a teacher. 

Besides coaching baseball, he instructs special education classes at Garrett Middle School. His wife of 19 years — Stacy — is a kindergarten teacher at J.E. Ober Elementary in Garrett. The couple have two sons — GHS senior-to-be Blake (17) and GMS eighth grader-to-be Easton (13).

Brett Ratcliffe returned to Trine University in Angola, Ind., for his second stint as assistant baseball coach. He has also been a head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School and an assistant at DeKalb High School in Watlerloo, Ind., and Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. He has helped coach and evaluate players for USA Baseball. This summer, he is the 17U head coach for the DeKalb County Thunder travel program.

Relationships key for Hundley, Canes Midwest Baseball

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaching continuity is one of the ingredients that helps fuel the Canes Midwest Baseball travel program.

In order to build relationships and develop players, coaching staffs tend to stay with the same group of players from their 14U through 17U seasons.

“If I’ve only been around these kids for eight weeks in summer, I don’t really get to know the kid and the family,” says Jay Hundley, Canes Midwest Baseball president and 17U head coach. “The cycle — I believe in that.”

Hundley recalls an emotional goodbye by himself and his assistant coaches to the Canes 17U team when they played their last game of 2019.

“We cried like babies for 25 minutes straight,” says Hundley. “(The players and their parents) became our second family.”

That bond happens through years of training (off-season workouts are done at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.), traveling and playing together. 

In 2020, Canes Midwest Baseball is fielding six teams — 11U (head coach Eric McGaha with help from Joe Haley), 12U (Jamie Nanny with Jeremy Sensenbaugh), 13U (Jeff Millington with Ryan Wolfe), 15U (Jeremy Honaker with Drew Koning and Drew Bertram), 16U (Phil McIntyre with David Bear) and 17U (Hundley with Phillip Webb, Ben McDaniel and Hunter McIntosh). 

McGaha (Mooresville), Honaker (Martinsville), McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central), Bear (Ben Davis), Webb (Western Boone) and McDaniel (Columbus North) are all high school head coaches. Sensenbaugh (Indianapolis Cathedral), Koning (Zionsville) and McIntosh (Columbus North) are also high school assistants. Bertram played at Purdue University and just graduated.

Hundley says there will be teams at each age from 10U to 17U when new squads are formed for 2020-21.

“We’ll only only ever have only one team per age group,” says Hundley. “We want to have the best kids and coaches. We’re trying to grow it the right way — slowly and surely.

“We’ve had the same coaches for almost 10 years.”

Hundley founded the Indiana Outlaws around 2012. A few years ago, that organization merged with Canes Baseball.

With President and CEO and 18U National head coach Jeff Petty and general manager and 14U National head coach Dan Gitzen based in the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina area, Canes Baseball is one of the biggest travel programs in the country with thousands of players and a very large social media presence.

“The Outlaws were known in Indiana and surrounding areas,” says Hundley. 

While Canes Midwest Baseball is locally owned and operated, Hundley says the national Canes brand helps with outreach in getting better players and with exposure to college programs.

Canes Midwest Baseball does not have a huge board of directors.

“It’s like a mom-and-pop operation,” says Hundley. “It’s myself and our coaches. It’s about baseball at the end of the day. 

“We’re getting guys into college and developing our younger players. We build great relationships with families. We do it for the right reasons.”

Hundley says 21 of the 23 players on the 17U team in 2019 (members of the Class of 2020) made college baseball commitments.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 college season was cut short and players were given an extra year of eligibility. High school seniors missed the entire spring campaign.

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was sliced from 40 to five rounds. 

On top of that, the recruiting calendar for NCAA Divisions I and II was changed so coaches can’t see players in-person until after July 31. The travel season is essentially over by then.

To deal with that, Hundley says Canes Midwest Baseball will continue to provide those college coaches with video and use the equity built built over the years between the travel group and the college recruiters.

“We have to vouch for our player’s character, but we can’t oversell a player who’s not a fit for the school or we lose credibility,” says Hundley. “(Recruiters) can see a guy’s talent, but can’t see what’s in his heart or between his ears.”

It’s typical that close to 90 percent of players are committed by the end of the 17U summer.

Hundley says that it used to be that the 17U summer was the most important for players bound for Division I Power 5 programs. 

That has changed to 16U and some players have even made verbal commitments as 15U players. At 17U, there are still D-I commitments made as well as at other collegiate levels.

“The landscape has changed so much,” says Hundley. “There may be a chain reaction for three or four years. There are a lot of guys that didn’t leave college because of not being drafted.

“The waters have gotten very muddy. I don’t think it’s going to get clear for awhile.”

The 17U Canes Midwest team has already participated in three events for 2020. This week, the squad goes to the Prep Baseball Report Midwest Premier Super 17 at Creekside Baseball Park — an invitational-only tournament near Kansas City. That will be followed by the PBR Indiana Upperclass State Games and Bullpen 17 Amateur Baseball Championships (both at Grand Park in Westfield), the PBR 17U National Championship at LakePoint near Atlanta. 

Depending on participation by college recruiters, Hundley says the 17U Canes Midwest team might also play in the next Bullpen Midwest Prospect League event at Grand Park.

With their bright gold attire, it’s usually not difficult to spot the Canes at a tournament.

Hundley is a 1997 graduate of Ben Davis High School and played for head coach Dave Brown. Later on, Hundley was a Ben Davis assistant for six years and followed Aaron Kroll to staff Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and was on his staff 2015-19. 

The Roncalli Rebels — junior Michael McAvene was the winning pitcher (who later played at the University of Louisville and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2019) and sophomore Nick Schnell (who was selected as Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2018 and drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays that same year) —  won the 2016 IHSAA Class 4A state title. McAvene and Schnell are also Outlaws/Canes Midwest alums.

Other Outlaws/Canes Midwest players drafted in recent years include Jacson McGowan (Rays, 2018), Drew Campbell (Atlanta Braves, 2019), Andrew Saalfrank (Arizona Diamondbacks, 2019).

For the past 22 years, Hundley has been part of the concrete construction industry. He is the owner of Extreme Concrete Cutting, Inc.

The Canes Midwest travel baseball organization has six teams in 2020.
Jay Hundley (center) is the head coach and president of the Canes Midwest travel organization. The graduate of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis started the Indiana Outlaws and later merged with the Canes.
Jay Hundley (right) with son Bronx Robert Hundley. Jay is the president and coach of Canes Midwest travel baseball.

Allowed to return to practice, gratitude is the attitude for Morris Baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions, players at Morris Baseball in northwest Indiana can finally practice again and founder/president Bobby Morris couldn’t be happier.

“It’s as much fun as I’ve had on a baseball field in ages,” says Morris of a workout earlier this week. “The big reason is quarantine and the chaos going on around us.

“I feel a sense of gratitude. Our players feel a sense of gratitude — more so than in January or February.”

Morris says he hopes his organization with around 200 clients, including Chiefs travel teams, will help bring a sense of community and unity as the 2020 season moves forward.

“if we can spread a little positivity and a little gratitude, I’m all for it,” says Morris, who started his training business in 2011 and merged five years ago with the Hammond Chiefs, which mark their 30th season this year.

The first clients Morris had were 9-year-olds.

“Those kids are just now graduating and going on to play college baseball,” says Morris.

A relationship began when Brian Jennings brought Morris together with Chiefs founder Dave Sutkowski.

“It’s mutually a good fit together,” says Morris. “Dave has been pleasure to work with. We got some Chiefs coaches when we merged. They’ve been great mentors with our kids.”

The Morris Baseball mission statement: To recruit excellent talent and provide them with disciplined, well-organized, focused practices with superior instruction and place them in highly competitive opportunities to achieve principle-based success.

“If we produce great players, everything will take care of itself,” says Morris. “We make sure we have great practice facilities and plenty of practice time. 

“We try to produce well-rounded baseball players. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”

Until recently, Morris Baseball and the Chiefs were housed at Franciscan Physician Network Schererville Family Health Center (formerly Omni Health & Fitness).

The organization just moved to a training facility at 1075 Breuckman Drive in Crown Point. Morris says the name for the new place will be revealed soon.

The new centrally-located home includes plenty of workout space plus classrooms, player’s lounge, kitchen and coach’s offices.

“For our kids it will be great,” says Morris. “We have internet at player desks. They can hang out there all day if they want.

“We prefer that they study and take batting practice.”

The Morris Chiefs tend to play many local games at the Crown Point Sportsplex, Central Park in Dyer, Ind., and Ho Chunk Baseball Tournaments in Lynwood, Ill.

“Our kids play a lot ,” says Morris. “We do a lot of practicing during the off-season. We play a lot during the season.

“One of our strengths is we keep our kids active throughout the year.”

This summer, the Chiefs’ 15 current teams (with manager): 2021 (Chip Pettit), 17U (Alex Triantafillo), 2022 (Bobby Morris), 16U (Trevor Howard), 15U (Andrew Lowe), 15U (Lee Turnbough), 14U (Shawn Donovan), 13U (Trevor Howard), 13U (Corderro Torres), 12U (Michael Scharnke), 12U (Alex Triantafillo), 11U (James Stovall), 10U (Derek Woerpel), 9U (Bobby Morris) and 8U (Bryan Lopez). 

Sutkowski and Mike Curiel assist Pettit with the 2021 squad. Pettit, who is superintendent of Duneland School Corp., was the first Indiana Mr. Baseball in 1992.

“It’s an extremely gifted group,” says Morris of the 2021 team. “(Pettit and Sutkowski) are two phenomenal sports minds.”

Assistants for Morris with the 2022 Chiefs are Morris Baseball general manager Mike Small plus Tim Horneman.

Bobby’s youngest son, Gavin (10), plays for the 9U Chiefs. Bobby also helps coach the 8U team.

Nick Amatulli has more than 40 years of coaching experience and helps with both of Trevor Howard’s squads. 

Some other Chiefs coaches are John Adams, Tom Blair, Brad Fedak, Brian Fernandez, Trent Howard, Dale Meyer, Kevin Peller, Brad Rohde, Kenny Siegal and Eric Spain.

“We don’t differentiate ‘A’ team and ‘B’ team,” says Morris. “It’s more geared toward the name of the coach. We don’t want the potential for the stigma there. It also incentivizes our coaches to play the game hard and represent themselves well.

“We want Chiefs teams to play hard and be smart players. Any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”

Three Chiefs alums are currently playing pro baseball — third baseman Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays) and left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) in the majors and second baseman Nick Podkul (Toronto Blue Jays) in the minors.

Other players who were selected or played in pro baseball (affiliated and/or independent) include right-hander Matt Pobereyko (Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets), infielder/outfielder Ryan Dineen (Houston Astros), left-hander Trent Howard (Baltimore Orioles), right-hander Dan Faulkner (drafted by Philadelphia Philies), left-hander Blake Mascarello (Phillies), left-hander Andy Loomis (Florida Marlins, Phillies, Orioles), outfielder Ryan Basham (drafted by the Blue Jays), right-hander Cesar Carrillo (San Diego Padres), right-hander Mike Ryan (Atlanta Braves), outfielder Mike Coles (Orioles), left-hander Jon Nourie (Padres), first baseman Matt Mamula (New York Yankees) and right-hander Neal Frendling (Rays).

Morris is a 1990 graduate of Munster (Ind.) High School where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan.

“Bob is an extremely decent man,” says Morris of Shinkan. “He has such a genuine, caring nature.”

Shinkan can also be strict and he expects his players to be disciplined.

“I had a great experience there with Bob,” says Morris. 

After high school, lefty-swinging infielder Morris spent three seasons at the University of Iowa playing for long-time Hawkeyes head coach Duane Banks.

“Duane was just a smart baseball guy,” says Morris. “At Iowa, they really believed in self starters. They threw you out there and expected you to compete for a position.

“That culture helped me a lot in professional baseball.”

Morris was selected as a third baseman in the ninth round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs and played nine minor league seasons (1993-2001), logging 636 games and hitting .290 with 36 home runs and 326 RBIs. He reached Double-A in the Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds systems. By hitting .354 with seven homers and 64 RBIs, he was chosen as MVP of the 1994 Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs of the Low Class-A Midwest League. That team was managed by Steve Roadcap

Morris also played for teams managed by Steve Kolinsky, Dave Trembley and Bruce Kimm while with the Cubs, Joel Skinner, Jeff Datz and Max Oliveras with the Indians, Bobby Jones with the Rangers and Mike Rojas and Phillip Wellman with the Reds.

Men that stick out for Morris in his development include Trembley, Jimmy Piersall, Sandy Alomar Sr. and Joe Tanner.

While Trembley never played pro baseball, he managed (Orioles) and coached (Houston Astros) in the big leagues.

“Dave had a great habit for excellence,” says Morris, who won a High Class-A Florida State League championship with Trembley on the 1995 Daytona Cubs. “He expected a lot out of himself and a lot out of us and how we carried ourselves.”

Morris, who turns 48 in November, grew watching Piersall and Harry Caray call Chicago White Sox games on TV. When he learned Morris was from Chicagoland, Piersall became close to Morris as a minor league hitting/outfield coach.

“Jimmy took on a second grandfather role for me,” says Morris.

It was in the Cubs organization that Morris encountered Alomar.

“He’s as smart a baseball person as I’ve ever met,” says Morris. “He’s an absolute genius.”

Tanner was Morris’ first full-season hitting instructor and the inventor of Tanner Tees — a product used by Bobby and brother Hal Morris (a left-handed first baseman/outfielder who played 14 seasons in the big leagues).

“Joe was a was a renaissance man for baseball,” says Bobby Morris. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great influences.”

His earliest diamond influences came from brother Hal.

Hal is seven years older than Bobby. 

“We were constantly competing with one another,” says Bobby. “I was challenged a lot. We were always very close. As I matured and got into high school, Hal brought back stuff from his (college and pro) coaches and we worked on it. 

“That helped in fine-tuning my ability to hit at an early age.”

As youngsters, the brothers spent hours taking batting practice with father Bill pitching and mother Margaret chasing baseballs.

Bill Morris was a four-year baseball letterman Davidson (N.C.) College, went to medical school, did his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, entered the U.S. Army and was at Fort Rucker in Alabama when daughter Beth (who went on to be a state swim champion at Munster High) and son Hal (who shined in baseball for the Mustangs) were born.

The family later came to northwest Indiana, where Bill was a pediatrician working at the Hammond Clinic, St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond and Community Hospital in Munster. He died at 82 in 2017.

“He taught us how to compete and how to be gentlemen,” says Bobby Morris of his father. “He was a class southern gentleman.

“My mom is still with us. She has probably shagged as many baseballs in her life as any big league pitcher.”

Bobby and Gloria Morris have three children. Besides Gavin, there’s recent Arizona State University graduate Gina (22) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis student John (19). Gloria Morris is a Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate.

“We’re Region rats,” says Bobby Morris. “I love northwest Indiana.”

The Morris family (from left): Gina, John, Gloria, Gavin and Bobby. Morris Baseball was established by Bobby Morris, a former college and professional player, in 2011. Five years ago came a merger with the Hammond Chiefs travel organization.

LHP Richard re-building himself through Project 2020

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Clayton Richard wasn’t satisfied with the status quo.

The professional left-handed pitcher was not willing to settle.

So when the Lafayette, Ind., native became a free agent after the 2019 Major League Baseball season, he decided a transformation was in order after appearing in 275 MLB games (210 as a starter) since 2008.

The former Indiana Mr. Baseball (he was Indiana Mr. Football, too) sought a way to re-work his mechanics.

“My performance was not matching up with what I desire to be,” says Richard, who went 1-5 with a 5.96 earned run average in 10 starts with the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays and was released Sept. 12 (his 36th birthday). “I decided to make a tangible change to improve production.

“It’s going great. I’m really happy with it.”

A 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, Richard participated with Team USA in the World Baseball Softball Conference Premier 12 — an Olympic qualifier held Nov. 2-17 in Jalisco, Mexico.

He was not in a spring training camp when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live baseball.

The southpaw did travel to Driveline Baseball headquarters in Kent, Wash., to begin his transformation process. He labeled it Project 2020. His journey was explored by David Laurila for Fangraphs in April.

He established a plan of action and came back to Lafayette and started implementing it. He built a barn next to his house and goes out there every morning.

“I’m throwing into a net quite a bit, which isn’t the most fun,” says Richard. “But the net never lies. It shows you exactly where the ball went.

“A good catcher can manipulate pitches.”

The pitcher also wrote down his plan, painstakingly laying out the details.

“Before the baseball world came to a screeching halt, I was frequently asked ‘What are you doing now?’ by friends and family alike,” writes Richard in the introduction to the project. “Although the question was simple enough, I honestly didn’t feel comfortable enough to delve into exactly what I was doing with my time – mostly due to the fact that I didn’t think the majority of people really care where my spin axis was that week.

“Like most unsigned free agent pitchers in professional baseball, it is much easier to state, ‘just throwing every day and waiting for the right opportunity.’

“The reality is I have been up to a lot more than simply throwing a few baseballs everyday. I have used the last few months to make significant changes this off-season. The effectiveness of my pitching repertoire had changed for the worse over the past two seasons.

“Based on that, I could choose to continue down the same path, one with an aim to execute pitches at a higher rate but likely be relegated to a LHP bullpen role, or veer headfirst into changing how my pitches profiled to RHH in an effort to level out the platoon splits for longer outings.

“I honestly debated the choice many times over – my wife likely got sick of my asking her or talking to myself. Ultimately, I came up with a plan to revamp my arsenal to return in time as the starting pitcher, the role I have worked to become since first pitching in my backyard with my dad squatting behind the plate and my mother standing in the box.”

Clayton is the oldest of Barry and Cindy Richard’s three children ahead of daughters Casey (Davenport) and Taylor (Bumgarner). Barry is a retired Lafayette Police offer and has served as sheriff of Tippecanoe County and the executive director of Lyn Trece Boys & Girls Club of Tippecanoe County. Cindy has worked with troubled teenagers.

Most of Richard’s charitable work in baseball has been centered on at-risk youth. He and his wife have worked with the Lyn Trece BGC and and clubs in San Diego.

“We only get to play baseball for so long,” says Richard. “The impact off the field really lasts.”

Richard was the Padres’ nominee for the Heart & Hustle Award (given out annually the the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association to a current player who not only excels not he field, but also “best embodies the values, spirits and traditions of baseball”) and the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award (given annually to a Major League Baseball player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement”).

“To be honored with those types of things is really humbling,” says Richard. “It shows what’s really important in life.”

A 2003 graduate of McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Clayton played football for Mavericks head coach Kevin O’Shea, basketball for Rick Peckinpaugh and baseball for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

What sticks with Richard about Burton?

“His discipline and organization of team activities,” says Richard. “Those two things he did at such a high level.

“He taught so many young men the value of being on time and working hard. We were always busy. There was never time to stand around. There was always something you could be doing.”

Richard related to that. He grew up in a household that stressed discipline.

“It was an attribute that was preached and followed,” says Richard. “We’d make sure we’re on time, saying yes. It was those little details about how you carried yourself that made a big difference.

“Those are things we’re trying to teach our children now.”

Clayton and Ashley Richard have three kids — sons Cashton (7), Cannon (6) and daughter Kile (3).

Recently, the family has been going out to a local field.

“It’s our time to be together and play baseball,” says Richard.

While there might not be organized youth baseball this summer because of the pandemic, Richard expects there to be sports for them in the fall.

“Maybe flag football or soccer?,” says Richard. “We keep sports in their own season so they don’t get burned out. We don’t want them playing one sport all year.”

From his own experience and talking with elite athletes, Richard is a believer in participating in multiple sports for a well-rounded experience.

“There’s the competitive advantage of always being in-person,” says Richard. “There’s the social advantage of having teammates.”

Basketball teaches agility and conditioning. Football gives the opportunity to interact with others and be a leader.

The Richards have been doing eLearning with kids. But it’s something they did before the pandemic quarantine. Homeschooling was done because of inconsistent residence, a byproduct of pro baseball.

Richard says schooling kids at home has its advantages.

“It cuts all of the stagnate time and we get to spend more quality time with them,” says Richard. “The details you instill in their education is taken care of.”

Clayton Richard and Ashley Buckingham met at the University of Michigan, where he was a pro-style football quarterback and baseball pitcher and she was a middle blocker on the volleyball team. She prepped at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind.

When did baseball become Clayton’s primary sport?

“Sept. 12, 2004,” says Richard, who was then a redshirt freshman. “That was the day after Michigan was upset 28-20 against Notre Dame. Sophomore Chad Henne was kept at quarterback for that game and moving forward. “I saw writing on the wall. I knew my football career at Michigan was probably coming to an end.”

Soon after the Rose Bowl, Richard went to the baseball team. He appeared in 21 games and went 0-1 with five saves and a 2.43 ERA. He was selected in the eighth round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox and signed by Anderson, Ind.-based scout Mike Shirley.

Richard made his big league debut with the White Sox in 2008 at 24. He was dealt to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2009. He elected free agency after the 2013 season.

He underwent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in February 2014 and pitched in the minors with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations that year.

Richard was traded to the Chicago Cubs and returned to a big league mound in 2015. He returned to the Padres in August 2016 and remained with them until he designated for assignment in December 2018. That same month Richard was traded to the Blue Jays.

For his career, he is 69-84 with a 4.51 ERA and 824 strikeouts in 1,284 2/3 innings.

Richard has been described as a contact pitcher.

“You never set out to have guys hit the ball,” says Richard. “Weak contact on contact on the ground is a really good thing.

“Guys who typically have a lower spin rate tend to sink the ball. That creates more early contact and more early outs with balls on the ground.”

As he began “Project 2020” in earnest, Richard met with Driveline founder/owner Kyle Boddy and started working with manager of online training Dean Jackson.

More from 2020 Project:

“I need to use my past as a compass to my future. I am too evolved in my career to think what I have done doesn’t matter while looking to improve.

“My Past: I learned how to throw a football first.

“Why that’s important: If I desire to make some fundamental changes to my delivery, I need to be willing to change in complete, as the foundation of my throwing process was built around throwing a football.

“I had to make arm, body, and mechanical compensations mid-career due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. (TOS: the compression of the brachia plexus that is the highway of nerves, arteries and/or veins that controls and supplies to the arm. In myself it manifested as drastic pain in the anterior shoulder).

“Why that’s important: I need to be aware of why I started to do ‘strange’ things throwing a baseball and understand that it’ll be difficult to kick those old habits.

“I made additional compensations in 2018 to get past knee issues.

“Why that’s important: For very much the same reason as the TOS. My body had compensated to cover up inefficiencies, and I had to retrain myself to get back to my old self.

“The combination of these three athletic factors left me with a delivery that was nonathletic and not overly effective, so I tried to throw the old delivery out the window.

“Getting rid of that old delivery has been much like getting water out of a tire. You can see it. You don’t want it there. Yet, you are forced to keep flipping over that tire again and again because only a small portion comes out with every flip.

“The easier part for me was self-evaluating thru identifying pitches and zones that needed improvement from my past. The info was sadly pretty clear to me that not much of my arsenal was effective vs RHH other than my slider. The worst part of the self evaluation was that the slider was largely ineffective last season also due to a whole host of reasons.

“What I also found was that my sinker at the bottom of the zone – my bread and butter that generated ground balls — had turned from a viable option to one that was generating less and less favorable results.

“My change-up as well had blended into a pitch that too closely mirrored the not so great metrics of my sinker. My analytics study showed my ability to cut and spin the ball was also compromised, due to the lower arm slot and release angle that had been an effective and physically necessary approach a couple of seasons prior.

“A few years ago after another brief self evaluation, I moved to the other side of the rubber, spent the offseason trying to manipulate the change up, and reintroduce a cut fastball into my mix.

“To my naked eye, these worked great and I was oozing with confidence. The ball flight suggested they were good, catch partners loved them, and bullpen catchers were on board. Everything was smooth and positive until a RHH got into the box and took swings at the pitches.

“Going into this offseason, I set the goal of raising my arm angle to create a better four seam fastball vs RHH. This adjustment would change my approach angle, movement profile, and velocity. The new angle would also allow me to differentiate my off-speed from the FB more effectively.

“I felt like I had a good idea of what I wanted to accomplish but didn’t want to lose out on the opportunity to consult specialists in this area of pitching.

“Last year, I worked with a longtime pitching coach that requests to be anonymous. This year I had started to follow Driveline (DL) through social media and been reading up on their research. I decided to reach out to Kyle Boddy. He quickly responded and gave me all the information I needed. I made the trip to Washington to check out Driveline.

“Their information surprised me a bit but offered a roadmap of the last few months: my lower body was not creating much force, and my delivery was not syncing up efficiently enough to create optimized velocity into the ball.”

Richard offered a summary of his Driveline Report:

“Key Notes: Arm action is overall clean and efficient, elbow is a bit low at ball release. However, this is not currently having a negative effect on the rest of the arm action.

“The trunk opening early into foot plant is most likely pulling the arm out of efficient positions too early in the throw.

“Trunk opens early into foot plant. Hip/shoulder separation and timing are inefficient with room to improve.”

Biomechanics details: “Richard’s upper body kinematic positions are within normal to above average ranges for the most part. He does a great job creating above average scap retraction into foot plant (47 degs). Low shoulder abduction at ball release (79 degs). Besides that, no other glaring inefficiencies noted.

“He does a good job staying stacked with good forward (-10 degs) and lateral (4 degs) trunk tilt early into foot plant. However, there are some other inefficiencies noted. Richard’s trunk is opening early into foot plant (21 degs). This is limiting Richard’s ability to create hip/shoulder separation (18 degs) and timing from peak pelvis to peak torso angular velocity (0.0111 secs). This is most likely a product of inefficient trunk/pelvis positions at foot plant making it hard to create separation and sequence efficiently. Hip/shoulder separation drills should be emphasized to work on this by holding counter-rotation and staying stacked with the trunk while the pelvis opens into foot plant.

“Below average kinematic velocities noted; COG velocity (2 m/s); torso angular velocity (980 degs/sec).

“Joint kinetics within normal ranges.”

Richard has taken that data and gone to work.

“With those notes, I had all the information I needed to start down my path of change,” writes Richard of his plan. “Here is a sample formula for a delivery that I will refer to a few times moving forward: Just as 10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10=100, Mindset+Focus+Breath+Feet+Legs+Hips+Torso+Arms+Hand+Sights=Delivery or an Executed Pitch.

“This is an oversimplification pitch delivery to try to illustrate my point. Every pitcher will have a unique equation that reaches their own version of 100.

“When a pitcher changes one small thing in his delivery, he will no longer be at his desired 100.

“Example: I moved my throwing foot to be more flush with the rubber (had to exaggerate to feel as if my toes were pointing at the plate to get there).

Changing that ‘10’ in my foot to an ‘8’ left my solution at ‘98’. Then, I had to go step by step through the rest of my delivery to see what else needed adjusted to get back to 100. In this case, it was just my sights.

“The foot adjustment happened quickly, and my sights adjusted without much issue. Some fixes come relatively easily, but other changes require many frustrating training sessions to find out what was changed and what correlated adjustment needs made.

“Here are a few of the most frustrating parts I encounter when setting out to make a significant change:

“Seeing what is wrong and not feeling it.

“Feeling an adjustment made and not seeing it.

“Expectations not lining up with reality.

“Physical restrictions limiting a faster progression (in my case, blisters).

“I have also figured out you have to go through the frustrating parts to make progress. If you are not getting sore in new places, experiencing blisters, throwing balls off the backstop, then you’re likely not making much of a change at all.

“Making a fundamental change takes hundreds, even thousands of reps, and the outcome revealed is often incremental. My mind and body have worked together so long and over so many reps, it takes a while to break up the chemistry they have going.

“I started working from home while staying in contact with Dean Jackson of DL. We decided to start working from the ground up. Working on my lower half was a very frustrating process.

“Before the past couple of years, I had never put any thought into what my lower body was doing when I was pitching.

“The first part of my lower half adjustment was easy enough: moving my throwing foot flush with the rubber.

“I originally moved my heel off of the rubber to even out my delivery equation when I moved from the other side of the rubber to face RHH two years ago.

“I was having trouble with my command and made a quick fix to change the way by body angled to the plate vs changing something else.

“In getting my heel closer to the rubber, it improved my ability to get into my left hip. What felt good was often wrong and what felt foreign was generally right where I needed to be.

“I spent months trying to get more out of my legs to no avail. I was going back and forth with Dean, almost daily, toiling over changes that could make the positive impact we so desired. He did a remarkable job promptly responding and sending video examples when necessary.

“My mind was totally on my legs, but that is exactly where I was going wrong: I was putting too much emphasis on them. If I think back to when things were going well before the knee issues, there was no thought put into what my lower half was doing.

“Thinking about how it moves, I’m essentially locking it up. I stole a cue from Trevor Cahill, who sent me a video of him getting his foot down before an obstacle (keeping his glove foot on the throwing side of the midline to the plate). “That is what clicked with me after countless attempts to get my lower half moving ‘right’. What I had been doing was putting so much focus into my leg movement that the process of the lower half going down the slope was taking too long for my foot get down. It was just the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish.

“The next step was how my torso was moving in space at a couple of different points through my delivery.

“Closing off my upper half relative to my hips; Hip/Shoulder separation. The elite throwers do this very well. Over time, my natural ability to do this had been compromised by the many adjustments made to command the ball.

“One of the first attempts was to try to ‘glove tap’ at leg lift. Rob Hill suggested it, and this helped a little, but I didn’t feel that it made as drastic of a change as I desired.

“One day, I remembered back to learning to pitch for the first time in the back yard with my father. I originally misunderstood what he meant when he was telling me ‘all the way back’.

“We would play out imaginary at-bats and call ‘balls’ and ‘strikes.’ If I were to fall behind, he would exclaim, ‘Come on Clayton. All the way back!

“Six-year-old me understood this as reaching my glove and ball all the way back towards second base as far as I could before I delivered the pitch. I didn’t understand ‘all the way back’ as a saying to get back into the count until embarrassingly late in my baseball days.

“So, I used the input from Rob and my father to start getting a little more counter rotation with my upper half by driving my hands back at leg lift.

“Getting on top of the ball: One of the biggest obstacles to get the ball to act how I want it to is to get more ‘on top’ of it. My spin axis has gotten pretty low since my return from TOS.

“My spin axis was measured around 9:45. This leads to a terrific amount of arm side run, but in the past couple years it was not enough to keep the RHH at bay. I needed to find a healthy way to raise my hand and effectively raise my spin axis. “One thing I have heard from many pitching coaches and baseball minds more advanced than mine, is that you don’t mess with a player’s arm angle.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t always listen to this wisdom, and I battled to change mine at times earlier in my career, which led to some arm issues. That left me with the challenge to get my hand more vertical without raising my arm relative to my body.

“Enter Torso Tilt: I elected to use my torso to ‘lean’ glove side in an effort to raise ‘arm angle’ and get my spin axis to a more desirable slot. This worked initially, but then proved to be very inconsistent in terms of spin axis.

“The ball was coming out of the same slot consistently, but the axis was very inconsistent.

“I couldn’t figure this out for a long time. I was throwing with RHP Parker Dunshee and took note of his arm slot that is relatively low compared to his 1:00 spin axis.

“We talked it over, and I tried changing the positioning of my thumb on the baseball. Boom. Spin axis at or above 10:30 nearly every pitch following adjustment.

“My thumb was on the side of the ball and I moved it under or essentially polar opposite of my power fingers.

“After my four-seam fastball was starting to profile how I envisioned it, it was time to start commanding that pitch and doing so at higher intensity levels.

“One thing that I have found when implementing changes into a delivery is that I can perform them fairly easily in drill work or super low intensity situations. The real challenge lies in creating my new outcome as soon as a higher level of intensity is introduced and there is more focus on the outcome of the pitch.

“The moment in which I envision a hitter in the box or try to execute a pitch, my mind/body has a tendency to revert back to the form in which it performed that action in the past.”

“Outside of family, there is nothing in my life that has had as much of an impact on my actions and mindset as baseball. I had a high school football coach that would routinely acknowledge ‘pain is a good teacher’.

“There is not much more painful than giving up a home run to give up the lead or lose an MLB game. Those game experiences of pitches that I was beat on are burnt into my mind and body. If I try to tell my body to throw that pitch, my mind will override a poor decision to stay away from that uber painful experience it was once put in.

“It also provides a level of comfort with the delivery that has worked, for the most part, over the course of my career.

“Unfortunately, that delivery that I revert back to is not one I want moving forward while facing RHH. So, I have to make a habit out of making the uncomfortable, comfortable.

“This is where slow-motion video and pitch measuring tools such as Rapsodo really provide an advantage.

“It is impossible to find big league level talent to take swings off you every time you take the mound to work things out.

“The combination of Rapsodo and film have been introduced to somewhat fill that void.

“Nothing can fully replace the feedback of a big-league hitter, but the metrics and video provided from these sources has been a big step forward in seeing the necessary changes, and if I was making the changes the way I had envisioned.

“Now, instead of ‘feeling’ like that was a good pitch, I can look up and check to see if the numbers backed it up. Whenever I think of mental cues and how our mind perceives our body to be moving,

“I recall a conversation with former MLB veteran and fellow Hoosier, Joe Thatcher. I faced him his senior year of high school, and he threw ‘normal’.

“He developed into a Big Leaguer as a guy that dropped down and was very difficult on LHH. I asked him, “When did you start throwing like this?” when we were teammates in SD. He replied, ‘I feel like I’m throwing the same as everyone else, completely normal.’

“It goes to show, no matter how good we are or how far we have come, very rarely is the vision of our mind’s eye 20/20.

“All too often, early in the process, what felt like a great pitch only felt great because it was closer to how I used to throw.

“I wanted to feel weird and make the weird feeling my new normal. This process takes thousands of throws. It can take thousands of throws at each level of intensity.

“Playing catch — Flatground, Side Work, Live BP, Simulated Game, MiLB Game, MLB Game. As I have worked at each level, I have found that there are certain obstacles that pop up because of my body/mind recalling how it used to perform.

“Back to the process – Command: At this point, many of the variables in my delivery equation have been manipulated.

“The only thing remaining is throwing until my new sights line up with where the ball is actually going, without regressing towards what I’m comfortable with.

“This remains easier said than done. Thousands of throws, even a few off the glove were made in this process.

“I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many intelligent baseball minds over the course of my career. In these times of introspection, I will find myself recalling the cues Darren Balsley used to help me improve my sinker, or how Jim Benedict helped get my velo back after the TOS. Whether it was sights under the glove or the concept of throwing it easy and pulling down, I still draw from those interactions and now I have the 4S FB that I desire.

“Unfortunately, I do not throw 101 mph and have the luxury of living off of one pitch. I am forced to incorporate my off speed to compete at the highest level.

“Every time I use a different grip, some part of my delivery is driven back in time due to the muscle memory of that grip. Some grips take weeks to figure out what was not adding up, like my slider (turns out I was failing to drive my hands back at the top of my leg lift like I was with my FB).

“Other grips took just a few throws to iron out the kinks, like my CH. The new hand placement has allowed for the reintroduction of my cutter and curveball, which was kind of like learning new pitches all over again due to the lack of action those pitches have seen over the past few years.”

“I still have some work to do in getting the release points of my off-speed to mirror more closely that of my FB.

“However, they have gradually gotten closer over the last couple of weeks, and I just need to flip that tire a few more times.  A couple more flips and the water will likely be out of it – just like I will be back to my ‘new, old self.’”

There is uncertainty about when the Major League Baseball season is going to begin — if at all — and if there will be Minor League Baseball in 2020.

Richard’s agent, John Courtright of ISE Baseball in Chicago, is monitoring the situation.

“The opportunities may be few and far between,” says Richard. “I’m going to be ready to compete.”

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Clayton Richard’s old heel position.

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Clayton Richard’s new heel position.

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Clayton Richard’s old hand position.

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Clayton Richard’s new hand position.

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Clayton Richard delivers the baseball for the San Diego Padres in 2009. (Sean M. Haffey/San Diego Union-Tribune Photo)

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Clayton Richard has pitched in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres (two different stints), Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays. (MLB Photo)

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Clayton Richard pitched the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019. The former McCutcheon High School and University of Michigan player made his Major League Baseball debut in 2008. (MLB Photo)

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Clayton Richard, of Lafayette, Ind., has been pitching in Major League Baseball since 2008. At 36, he is re-working his delivery to increase his production. (MLB Photo)

 

West Lafayette’s Murtaugh making deeper dive as Yankees pro scout

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An unprecedented time in modern baseball has Pat Murtaugh doing his job in a way he did not anticipate.

In his 32nd year as a professional scout, the West Lafayette, Ind., resident has been evaluating players while the game on the field has been at a standstill because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

The last spring training games were played March 12 and the regular season is on hold.

Murtaugh, who is in his fifth year as a pro scout for the New York Yankees, has been watching video of players that the organization might have an interest in for possible trades.

“We’re digging in a little deeper and going through different organizations and arranging players,” says Murtaugh. “Because of the time we have, we are really able to go deep into the (player’s) history and make notes of it.

“During the season, we don’t go this deep. We don’t have the time.”

He and his fellow scouts have been sifting through reports and analytical data.

Murtaugh’s duties include major league players in the American League Central and National League Central plus the whole Cincinnati Reds system.

“A few of us have been asked to look a video of amateur players,” says Murtaugh. “They give us a list. We give our opinion.

“(Amateur scouts) have they’ve been looking at this so long. They want another perspective.”

Murtaugh, 61, worked in the systems of the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the Yankees. He started off as an amateur scout then was an area scout followed by a cross checker on the amateur side. For the past 15 or more years, he’s been a pro scout.

A passion for the game has kept Murtaugh in it for all these years.

“It’s the competition to get players in your organization,” says Murtaugh. “You get tied to those players and want to see their progress.

“We like to get to know them as well as we can. When they’re on the other team, it’s hard. You can’t tamper with them. But once you get them into your system you get to know them. Make-up of the player is so important to acquire. They may have all the skill sets. But hitting or pitching in Yankee Stadium is so different. It may be overwhelming for their personality.”

From talking to other people who’ve been around the player, Murtaugh finds out things about players like they might be a tough guy on the outside but soft-hearted on the inside.

Players might look good in the batter’s box or on the mound. They might put up head-turning numbers in the gym.

“But it still comes down to tools,” says Murtaugh. “That’s the starting point of everybody.”

Scouts like Murtaugh, project where those baseball tools — speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength — might take a player.

Once they get a handle on that and have the player in their organization, they can delve into the athlete’s intelligence level and if he is coachable (able to retain information).

When Murtaugh was with the Diamondbacks, he also scouted the Reds system. He became intrigued with a shortstop in the low minors named Didi Gregorius.

“We ended up getting him,” says Murtaugh of the Netherlands native who went on to play for the Diamondbacks and Yankees and is now with the Philadelphia Phillies. “He came in after (Derek Jeter) and sustained that position. He has natural tools. His intelligence level is real good. He speaks five different languages. He’s a good person and has good work habits.”

In 1976, Murtaugh was in the first graduating class at McCutcheon High School in West Lafayette.

The consolidation of Southwestern and Wainwright made up McCutcheon.

“There were some growing pains,” says Murtaugh, who had started his prep days at Wainwright.

The first head baseball coach for the McCutcheon Mavericks was Dennis Cleaver.

“He was an awesome person and a laid-back coach,” says Murtaugh, who was a second baseman. “I’m proud to have played for him.”

Murtaugh did not play baseball at Purdue University, but earned a degree in kinesiology — knowledge that has helped him as a coach and scout.

“It helps tremendously with the body movement,” says Murtaugh. “You can see limitations to the body. They might be having success now, but there is an injury risk in the future.”

Murtaugh’s nephew, Dru Scott, an athletic trainer in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

One of Murtaugh’s players at West Lafayette was Jason Taulman, who went on to coach in college and is now involved with the Indy Sharks travel organization.

After Purdue, Murtaugh was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

“He was a tremendous organizer,” says Murtaugh, who went on to be head coach at West Lafayette High School before becoming a full-time scout.

Organization is a trait that has served Murtaugh well.

“As a scout, you have to be self-disciplined,” says Murtaugh. “There’s nobody to tell you to go to work everyday. If you’re not organized and a self-motivator, you’re going to be lost.

“You have to stay on reports and it can become tedious.”

If the reports pile up, the scout ends up rushing through them and doing a poor job.

“You have your notes,” says Murtaugh. “While it’s fresh in your mind, you write as much as you can.”

If Murtaugh is viewing a series between two teams in his territory — say the Reds and the Chicago Cubs — he is responsible for evaluating 50 players.

Ideally, he will stay with one team for five or six days. He will get a good look at everyday players and can file a limited view report on others.

“Here’s what I saw but I don’t have a lot of conviction,” says Murtaugh. “I didn’t see enough.”

Murtaugh didn’t see the black widow spider that bit him in Scottsdale, Ariz., while he was covering a minor league game in 2019.

“I didn’t realize I had got bitten,” says Murtaugh. “I had this knot on the inside of my thigh.”

Murtaugh flew out the next day. In talking with wife Kathleen, he was convinced to go to urgent care.

The said, ‘we’ve got to do surgery,’” says Murtaugh. “They cleaned all the poison and venom out. I was fine after that.”

And — with the media accounts — somewhat famous.

“I was at spring training this year and there was a family sitting behind me,” says Murtaugh. “I had my bag with name tag. The father must have Googled me and said to me, ‘I just read about that black widow.’”

Kathleen Murtaugh is an assistant professor at St. Elizabeth School of Nursing — a division of Franciscan Health — in Lafayette. Pat has three step-children and 10 grandchildren.

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Pat Murtaugh, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., is a pro baseball scout for the New York Yankees. 2020 is his 32nd year as a scout.

Evansville Razorbacks promote accountability, communication, commitment

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 18U Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have been a force in the travel baseball world with four Pastime Tournaments national championships and a National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series runner-up finish.

The 2017 team went 40-0.

Established in 2002 by Jeremy Johnson, the Razorbacks have had 336 players sign on with college baseball programs and numerous players have been in pro ball.

“This program sets guys up not only in baseball, but their whole life,” says Johnson. “It’s a fraternity. You’re going to be a Razorback the rest of your life.

“It’s bigger than anybody, including me.”

Johnson is a 1993 Mater Dei graduate. He grew up spending Saturday mornings helping his father groom youth diamonds around Evansville. C.J. Johnson is a 2017 inductee into the Greater Evansville Sports Hall of Fame as a baseball administrator.

At 14, Jeremy severely hurt his right arm and learned how throw serviceably with his left. In high school, he was a successful cross country and track runner.

Johnson networks with college coaches and does his best to educate players and parents on the recruiting process and deciding on the best fit for them.

“My job is to help you find out your ‘why,’’ says Johnson. “What is driving you? If you don’t know that, you can get lost. You need to have a really good grasp on that. If you don’t and everything starts to go south, you’ll start panicking.”

And it doesn’t have to be NCAA Division I or bust. Some are best-suited by going the D-II, D-III, NAIA or junior college route.

“I’m completely over the fact that Division I is the best case scenario (for every player),” says Johnson. “You should pick a school where, if you didn’t play baseball any more, you wouldn’t want to transfer.

“It’s very, very personal thing for each kid. Look at schools that fit you personally. Start putting together legitimate ideas on what you know you want instead of what you think you want.

“High school is very status-orientedYou’re not doing it for your teammates. There’s a 50-50 shot you’ll meet your wife there.

“It’s way more than baseball.”

Johnson says he has watched the transfer portal blow up in recent years in part because of so many early commits (freshmen and sophomore are making verbal commitments these days) and players and parents not doing their due diligence on what they want and what a program has to offer.

“They may be good enough to be a tweener with D-I,” says Johnson. “But they could play more at D-II or go to D-III and be an All-American.

“We don’t want them to have regrets or at least minimize them.”

While he has been involved in most of the 336 college signings, Johnson doesn’t take credit. It’s the players with the talent.

“I’m not the reason any of my kid plays in college,” says Johnson. “I’m just a guy who goes to bat for them. My job is to market them. I’m an avenue.

“The kids are the ones that deserve everything. I didn’t throw a ball, catch a ball or hit it. I’m not the reason for the season.”

A junior college advocate, Johnson says those players tend to play with a chip on their shoulder. Six starters on the Razorbacks’ 2018  team went on to JC ball. The 2017 club was made up mostly of D-I commits.

“It saves money and keeps their options open,” says Johnson. “It makes you grind a little bit. You find out if you really love baseball if you go junior college.”

Johnson says the Razorbacks are well-represented in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference (John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley).

Johnson says parents don’t always receive personal feedback when they take their sons to showcases. They get the numbers, but not an idea of what that coaching staff thinks of the player and how they would fit in their program.

Players can go to showcase after showcase and the money spent can add up to the cost of a scholarship.

“Tell me what you’re interested in doing and let me market you,” says Johnson. He will do his best to have college coaches look at the player and let them know what they think.

“College recruiting always in flux,” says Johnson. “(Recruiters) don’t want to tell you yes or no. There’s a lot of maybes. That’s a frustrating thing. I tell parents to build an idea of where their kid really fits.”

In showcases or with private lessons, many times players are told over and over again how good they are.

“Some are honest about good things and bad things,” says Johnson. “There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism. You need it.”

Johnson sees his role with the Razorbacks as driven by relationships.

“I get to know the kids,” says Johnson. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with them.”

While many players come from southern Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky, there is no real limit and have come from several states away.

“I’m not afraid to ask anybody,” says Johnson. “We have the ability to house a few kids.”

Many players spend two seasons with the Razorbacks, which Johnson says averages 17 to 20 college commits per year. In any given year, a third to half of the squad goes into the summer uncommitted.

Among the 2019 high school graduates from Indiana schools on the ’19 summer team were Evansville North shortststop/second baseman Alex Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Austin shortstop/right-handed pitcher/third baseman Drew Buhr (Saint Louis University), Castle left-handed pitcher Blake Ciuffetelli (USI), Castle first baseman Brodey Heaton (Belmont University), Evansville Memorial right-handed pitcher Isaac Housman (USI) and Tecumseh outfielder Steven Molinet (USI).

There’s also shortstop/second baseman Alex Adams (Purdue University), catcher Garret Gray (Butler University), right-handed pitcher Trey Nordmann (Howard College in Texas) and left-handed pitcher/outfielder/first baseman Mark Shallenberger (University of Evansville).

Former Ben Davis High School catcher Zyon Avery (Ohio University), Decatur Central right-hander Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and right-hander Garret Simpson (Eastern Kentucky University) are among the recent Razorbacks now playing college baseball.

Razorback alums left-hander Dean Kiekhefer (Oakland Athletics), right-hander Derek Self (Washington Nationals) and outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Boston Red Sox) played at Triple-A in 2019. All three played at the University of Louisville. Kiekhefer appeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 and with Oakland in 2018.

There’s also former Backs Easton McGee and Stewart Ijames.

Right-hander McGee played for Bowling Green in the Tampa Bay Rays system in 2019.

Outfielder Ijames, a former U of L player and in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, was with the independent Kansas City T-Bones in 2019.

Clint Barmes, a Vincennes Lincoln High School graduate who recently went into the Indiana State University and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after a major league career, played for the Evansville Black Sox (1993-2001), which were picked up by the Razorbacks in 2002.

Johnson was an outfielder for the Jim Wittman-coached Black Sox in 1993-94. In a Black Sox alumni game, Johnson’s last pitch resulted in a Barmes home run.

“I hadn’t pitched in two years,” says Johnson. “Didn’t matter. Would happened on my best day.”

Former U of L catcher Jeff Arnold was signed by scout Kevin Christman and played in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-hander Morgan Coombs went to West Vigo High School and Ball State University then played independent ball.

Outfielder Sean Godfrey played at New Albany High School and Ball State before time in the Atlanta Braves system and indy ball.

First baseman Jon Hedges played at Indiana State.

Third baseman Kevin Hoef went to the University of Iowa and played indy ball.

Catcher Jeremy Lucas played at West Vigo and Indiana State before time in the Cleveland Indians system.

Black Sox right-hander Stephen Obenchain played at Evansville Memorial and the University of Evansville before stints in the Athletics system and independent ball.

First baseman Derek Peterson, who hails from New Jersey, went on to Temple University and played in Baltimore Orioles organization.

Black Sox right-hander Andy Rohleder played at Forest Park High School and the University of Evansville before tenures with the Florida Marlins organization and indy ball.

Right-hander P.J. Thomas, a Jeffersonville High School graduate who played at USI, was twice-drafted by the Red Sox and played indy ball.

Catcher Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State) played in the Red Sox organization.

Former Black Sox, Heritage Hills High School and University of Dayton catcher Mark Wahl was in the Orioles system.

While the Razorbacks run a full program with off-season training, Johnson says he is a realist and he knows that players have commitments to their hometown teams and work with their own hitting and pitching instructors. He doesn’t ask them to drive several hours to Evansville to hit them grounders.

“I’m not that full of myself,” says Johnson. “I have the utmost respect for high school programs.

“I love travel ball. But a large amount of travel ball is B.S. It’s such a money-driven situation. Travel ball — as a whole — is expensive for families with travel, hotels and all of that. We try to keep that cost down as low as we possibly can.”

When the 18U Razorbacks do travel, the team stays together in the same hotel.

Many of the players are getting close to going away to college. They get to experience curfews, team meetings and learn personal accountability. It’s an early look at their freshmen year and that first taste of freedom. They are responsible for their own laundry.

“The team runs the team,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot to be learned off the field until they go to college.”

Parents are encouraged treat the weekend like a getaway. All they have to do is attend the games and watch their sons play.

The organization expanded this off-season to 10 teams — 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, two 12U squads, 13U, 14U, 16U and 18U. 8U to 14U is high school prep. 15U to 18U is college prep.

According to Johnson, whose 18U assistant coaches are Bob Davis, Ryan Dills and Buddy Hales, the emphasis is on teaching player accountability at an early age, communication with parents, speed and strength conditioning and commitment to helping the person, then the player.”

Top 18U events in 2020 include June 12-14 in Midland, Ohio, June 18-21 in Louisville, Ky., June 26-28 in Midland, Ohio, June 30-July 1 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, July 5-9 at Perfect Game World Series (invitation only) in Hoover, Ala., and July 15-19 at the 18U Nationals in Indianapolis.

Jeremy and Christi Johnson married in 2013. There are three children — Seth (18), Ava (14) and Conner (13). Conner Johnson, now an eighth grader, was born in 2007, the same year the Razorbacks were NABF World Series runners-up.

“Spending summers with him with me is what ties it all together,” says Jeremy Johnson of time spent with Conner and Backs baseball.

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The Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have placed 336 players in college baseball since 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks)

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Jeremy Johnson (center) is the founder of the Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks travel baseball organization. The Razorbacks’ first season was in 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks Photo)