Tag Archives: Arizona

Ogg’s diamond odyssey takes him to Diamondbacks organization

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

Three years after throwing his last collegiate pitch, Indianapolis native Kenny Ogg has a joined a Major League Baseball affiliate.
Ogg, a right-hander who graduated from Lawrence Central High School in 2015 and Ohio University in 2020, is with the Arizona Complex League Diamondbacks Black after beginning the 2022 season with the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder who turns 25 on July 4 has made five relief appearances since being signed by D-backs indy ball scout Chris Carminucci.
Ogg threw at a February showcase in Arizona — where he now trains and works for facility owner and Oakland Athletics throwing performance coach Casey Upperman — and was told if he put up good numbers at the beginning of the season they would likely sign him.
“That’s essentially what happened,” says Ogg, who went 2-1 with a 2.84 earned run average in three starts with Joliet.
He pitched for Ohio from 2016-19. In 64 games (14 starts), he was 8-11 with a 4.96 ERA. He struck out 101 and walked 67 in 161 1/3 innings.
He spent a few weeks in the summer of the 2019 with the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League’s Birmingham Bloomfield (Mich.) Beavers.
Ogg was a graduate assistant at OU while completing his Specialized Studies degree with an emphasis on Health and Service Administration and Communications in 2020.
In September of 2020, Ogg moved to the Phoenix area and trained in the off-season.
He was still training and teaching lessons when he caught on with the independent Pioneer League’s Boise (Idaho) Hawks at the end of the 2021 season. In 13 games out of the bullpen, he was 1-0 with two saves and a 5.30 ERA.
Ogg has a large repertoire of pitches — sinker, cutter, change-up, slider and cutter.
“I’ve never thrown a four-seamer, always a two-seamer,” says Ogg. “My sinker and cutter are close to the same speed.
“My change-up is similar to my sinker. It has run and some depth to it, too. My slider is a work in progress. I’m trying to decide whether to go more traditional or gyro.”
While he describe his arm angle as high three-quarter, that is not his focus.
“It’s less about where my arm is and more about where my shoulder plane is,” says Ogg. “The more tilt I have with my shoulder plane the higher my arm slot.”
Born in Indianapolis, Kenny grew up in Lawrence Township and was coached up until high school by father Orien Ogg (now a substitute teacher and Irvington Prep Academy assistant). Andy Arnett coached alongside Orien with the Oaklandon Bombers.
Kenny played at Oaklandon Youth Organization, the OYO Bombers and then for USAthletic (coached by Mark Westlake), the Giants Fall Scout Team (Kevin Christman) and the Indiana Dirtbags (Jim Reboulet).
While at Lawrence Central, Dan Roman was the LC head coach his freshman year with Matt Buczkowski in charge his final three seasons.
“He’s a great mentor,” says Ogg of Buczkowski (who is now head coach at Carmel High School). “Whenever I have any baseball news he’s one of my first calls. He taught a lot about baseball in high school and he continues to do that when I go home.
“(Former Lawrence Central and current Carmel assistant) Fred Moses was a big part of developing my mechanics in high school and college.”
Kenny’s mother is interior designer Kimberly Curry. His sister is Katie Ogg (27).

Kenny Ogg (United Shore Professional Baseball League Photo)
Kenny Ogg (Boise Hawks Photo)
Kenny Ogg pitching at two different parts of his life.

Right-hander Lynn driven to make most of his talents

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

Lance Lynn has long been known for his athletic tenacity.
It started while he grew up in Avon and Brownsburg in central Indiana and has continued at the University of Mississippi and during his Major League Baseball stops with the St. Louis Cardinals (2011-17), Minnesota Twins (2018), New York Yankees (2018), Texas Rangers (2019-20) and Chicago White Sox (2021 to the present).
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound right-hander has the drive that has made him go 115-77 in 288 games. His 2.69 earned run average for the White Sox in 2021 would have led the American League, but he was five innings short of the innings requirement.
Where does Lynn’s push come from?
“I have a brother (Keith) that’s 12 years older than me,” says Lynn, 34. “It was him, my dad (Mike) and myself growing up for the most part so I had to learn to be competitive and learn to take care of myself or I’d get left behind.”
Mike Lynn, a Brownsburg High School graduate, played slow pitch softball and Keith Lynn, an Avon High School alum, played many sports and young Lance was there.
“I was always playing with the older kids because I had to and I was bigger,” says Lance. “I had to learn to compete and I enjoyed winning so it just kind of kept going.”
A 2005 Brownsburg graduate, Lance Lynn helped the Pat O’Neil-coached Bulldogs to an IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up finish in 2004 (27-7) and state title in 2005 (35-0).
To this day, Lynn and Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer O’Neil are in regular contact.
“I have great respect for Coach O’Neil,” says Lynn. “He’s someone who’s stayed close in my life even after I left high school. He was there for a lot of us growing up, took care of us and made us grow up as human beings.
“We’re still pretty close.”
Since 12 or 13, Lynn has gone to Jay Lehr for pitching instruction and made the trek over from Marion, Ill., to with him at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., before attending Monday’s national championship football game in Indianapolis.
“He takes care of all my winter throwing programs, making sure I have everything I need,” says Lynn of Lehr, who saw big leaguers and Indiana residents Tucker Barnhart (Detroit Tigers) and Carlos Rondon (White Sox) at the facility before Lynn’s workout. “Then during the season if I get in a pinch or just to stay on top of things, he’s always there to send me what I can work to keep moving.”
Also present at Pro X was Sean Cochran, Lynn’s strength coach since after the 2018 season.
“I needed someone to bounce stuff off of and was going to be there for the rest of my career,” says Lynn. “Sean and Jay go way back and I actually met Sean as a little kid.
“We’ve had a pretty good run since we started working together.”
Cochran, who was once based in Indianapolis and now calls San Diego home, travels all over to work with athletes and counts World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson among his clients.
“I’ll pick Sean’s brain and can you ask Phil about this or that and Phil tells me to just worry about pitching,” says Lynn, who is a right-handed amateur golfer.
Lynn appreciates the relationship he’s built with White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz.
“You’re looking at a guy who’s worked his way up from being a high school pitching coach all the way through the minor leagues and every stop,” says Lynn. “He’s able to show you what you do well using all the technologies.
“He’s able to communicate and show you what you need to see.”
Lynn’s three primary pitches are a four-seam fastball, cutter and sinker.
“You make sure those are good and make sure your stuff can play off of them from there,” says Lynn, who also occasionally uses a curve or change-up (he threw just four change-ups during the 2021 season).
Lynn pitches from a low three-quarter overhand arm slot, which developed as he career progressed.
“When I was younger I was a little more upright and had a little more shoulder lean. Over time I’ve been able to keep my shoulders a little more flat. The arm slot kind of just fell into place.”
The slot has served him well.
“I’ve been able to use it to create a good angle of attacking hitters,” says Lynn. “It’s hard for them to make good contact.
“There’s a lot of deception and hitters don’t love it.”
Lynn made 28 starts for the White Sox in 2021 — one of those was Aug. 12 at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.
“That was pretty cool,” says Lynn. “It was fun. When you look back it we put on a show. Kevin (Costner) was there. We had a good game. There was a walk-off home run (by Tim Anderson). I don’t think you could have scripted it any better than that.
“I threw the first pitch in a major league game in Iowa. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Major League Baseball is now in the midst of a lockout. Spring training at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., normally has pitchers reporting in early February.
Lynn has 333 MLB plate appearances with 24 hits (five doubles). As an amateur he was quite a slugger and folks still talk about a high school home run in South Bend.
“I hit it on the church out of the stadium,” says Lynn of a clout at what was then called Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (now Four Winds Field). “I had power, but it was an aluminum bat.
“I don’t think I’d want to face me now.”

Lance Lynn throws at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. 1-10-22 (Steve Krah Video)
Lance Lynn throws at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. 1-10-22 (Steve Krah Video)
Lance Lynn (Getty Images)
Lance Lynn at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Lance Lynn at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Lance Lynn at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Trainer Sean Cochran (left) and Lance Lynn at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Lance Lynn (left), Dr. Jamey Gordon and Jay Lehr at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

Righty Ledbetter’s route leads to Indiana

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

Collin Ledbetter was born and raised in Arizona, but the Midwest has also been pretty good to him as he has pursued higher levels of education and baseball.
In the summer of 2021, the right-handed pitcher experienced his first opportunity to play for pay in the United Shores Professional Baseball League.
The 25-year-old arrived this week back in his adopted hometown of Indianapolis where he will plot his future.
Ledbetter is a 2015 graduate of Northwest Christian School in Phoenix. He arrived at the same time as head baseball coach and former Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Rod Bair and was with the varsity for four years.
“We’re still great friends until this day,” says Ledbetter of Bair. “He had a great impact on me as a player and on my growth as a man as well.”
Starting out his college baseball journey in the Valley of the Sun, Ledbetter joined the Dave Grant-coached Glendale (Ariz.) Community College team and pitched for the Gauchos in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“(Glendale) has a great reputation — not only in Arizona — but around the country,” says Ledbetter. “I remember being intimidated going into the program. Coach Grant was a real encourager.
“He always gave guys a chance to prove themselves and was always there for help when you needed it.”
Ledbetter was recruited out of high school by Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich. David Mitroff was the Golden Eagles head coach at the time. In Ledbetter’s second year at Glendale, Mitroff moved to Phoenix and became a reference for the pitcher’s next move.
Mitroff connected Ledbetter with coaching friend Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University. After visiting the IWU campus in Marion, the player decided that it was the best fit for him and came to the Midwest.
“(Indiana Wesleyan) was an up-and-coming NAIA program looking to add pitching depth,” says Ledbetter. “It was the right place for me. It is Christian and a private school. My faith is very important to me.
“Coach Benjamin focused on creating an atmosphere where Jesus was first before baseball. Obviously, he wanted to win. He wanted us to use our talent to the best of our ability to God’s glory.”
Kris Holtzleiter was the Indiana Wesleyan pitching coach during Ledbetter’s time with the Wildcats.
“He’s one of the best encouragers I know,” says Ledbetter of Holtzleiter. “There’s nobody that doesn’t like him. He focuses on the positives, never the negatives.
“As someone who is hard on myself and expects a lot out of myself, I appreciated that.”
Ledbetter herniated a disc in his back that required surgery and redshirted in 2018 – his junior year — after playing in just six games.
At about the same time, Collin’s parents Paul and Deb and younger siblings Lauren and Carson moved from Arizona to Indianapolis to be closer to extended family.
Collin pitched for IWU — getting into eight games (five in relief) with a 0-2 record, 8.47 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 innings – and received a bachelors degree in Sports Management in 2019.
Wishing to pursue a Masters in Sport Management on an accelerated timeline with cost in mind, Ledbetter opted to transfer to Campbellsville (Ky.) University and used his redshirt senior season with the NAIA Tigers in 2020.
“(Head coach Beauford Sanders and pitching coach Brett Neffendorf) loved to win more than anyone I’ve ever played for,” says Ledbetter, who pitched in three games and 2 2/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA during the truncated 2020 campaign. “That’s a great thing. That was important to me.”
Ledbetter said the coaches were no-nonsense and helped players focus on short-term and long-term goals.
After his time at Campbellsville was there more baseball for Ledbetter?
He sure hoped so.
“The goal was always to play professional baseball and keep playing as long as I can,” says Ledbetter.
But there was plenty of uncertainty. Minor League Baseball canceled its 2020 season and many independent leagues followed suit.
Ledbetter kept himself in shape and began training with Jay Lehr at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.
“Jay really took me under his wing,” says Ledbetter, who had the chance to play catch with former big league pitcher Drew Storen and central Indiana minor leaguers like Parker Dunshee and Nolan Watson. “I saw a lot of development as a pitcher.
“I started showing signs of improvement and that I had the stuff to play at the next level.”
Ledbetter reached out to teams and leagues, including the four-team, Utica, Mich.-based USPBL (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Eastside Diamond Hoppers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths).
It was only a matter of hours when director of operations Jason Orenduff replied to his email and he soon found himself headed to Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, about 25 miles north of Detroit.
Assigned to the Woolly Mammoths, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder Ledbetter was a relief pitcher for a team co-managed by John Dombrowski and Taylor Grzelakowski.
“They definitely had our best interests in mind at all times,” says Ledbetter. “It was a fun atmosphere at the field every day.”
USPBL games were played Thursday through Sunday. There was no practice on Mondays and it was an optional weight room day. There were practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We were split into position groups,” says Ledbetter. “Pitchers went through an extensive stretching routine. As a reliever I had to be ready at all times. Tuesday was usually my bullpen days with 20-25 pitches and weights. Wednesdays I’d play catch and work on off-speed grips from 60 feet.”
Ledbetter said gameday routines were based on the individual needs of each player. Some recovered faster than others.
“We would hold each other accountable,” says Ledbetter, who made 21 mound appearances (20 in relief) with a 2-4 mark, three saves, 2.78 ERA, 23 K’s and 22 walks in 27 2/3 innings.
While Ledbetter has received an invitation to return to the USPBL in 2022, the league does have a two-year cap.
“Their goal is to push guys out of their as quickly as they can,” says Ledbetter. “They want everybody to be signed my an affiliated team.
“They saw a lot of growth in me as a player. They want the best for everyone. They’ve encouraged me to look at my other options.”
Taking a break to re-set physically and mentally, Ledbetter does not plan to begin throwing again for three or four weeks.
Meanwhile he will pursue a part-time job and may give private lessons.
He will also take the time to enjoy family. Paul Ledbetter is in the insurance business. Deb Ledbetter is a former flight attendant. Lauren Ledbetter (21) is a radiology technician. Carson Ledbetter (19) is attending trade school to become an electrician.
Collin is not related to twins Ryan and David Ledbetter, but he has formed a relationship with the former pitchers at Heritage Christian High School, Cedarville (Ohio) University and the Texas Rangers organization.
Ryan Ledbetter works for a company that has done business with Paul Ledbetter’s firm. Over time, Collin got to know both Ryan and David.
“We hit it off,” says Collin. “We’ve kept in-touch ever since.”

Collin Ledbetter (USPBL Photo)
Collin Ledbetter (United Shores Professional Baseball League Photo)
Collin Ledbetter (United Shores Professional Baseball League Photo)

Former Fort Wayne Carroll catcher Jones decides time is right to turn pro

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

Three years after graduating from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Hayden Jones is bigger and stronger and more mature.
Jones, who signed last week as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds out of Illinois State University, says his biggest growth since his prep days has come on the mental side. That’s why he wanted to go to college first instead of pursuing his pro career right away.
“I put the dollar amount so high no one was going to sign me (out of high school),” says Jones, who turned 21 on April 27. “I’ve learned to accept failure when it comes, knowing its not going to be the end of the world.”
Hayden, whose father Ken Jones was drafted as a catcher by the San Diego Padres in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now a Purdue Fort Wayne assistant coach and grandfather Bill Jones (who died in November 2015) was a founding member and longtime executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and selected as an IHSBCA Hall of Famer in 1982, played for Dave Ginder at Carroll. The lefty swinger and earned four letters while garnering IHSBCA all-state honors three times and being selected as MVP of the 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
Hayden’s uncle, Brad Jones, lettered in baseball at Ball State University. His son, Tyler Jones, played at the University of Dayton in 2021. Cousin Chris Menzie was a baseball letterwinner at Huntington (Ind.) University. Jennifer Jones is Hayden’s mother.
Hayden Jones spent his freshmen season at Mississippi State University in 2019, appearing in 27 games (14 starts) and hitting .224 (11-of-49) with one home run, four doubles, five runs batted in, five runs scored and a .636 OPS (.269 on-base percentage plus .367 slugging average). His fielding percentage with the Chris Lemonis-coached Bulldogs was .971 with 64 putouts, three assists and two errors.
Because of NCAA Division I transfer rules, he had to sit out the 2020 season.
In 2021 at Illinois State, he played in 38 games (31 starts) and hit .230 (28-of-122) with five homers, two triples, six doubles, 28 RBIs and 15 runs. His OPS was .730 (.296/.434). He also fielded at a .990 clip with 182 putouts, 21 assists and two errors.
“I loved Mississippi State,” says Jones. “My girlfriend (Savannah Shinn) still lives down there. It just wasn’t a fit (baseball-wise).”
At ISU, Jones worked with Redbirds head coach and former big league catcher Steve Holm.
Jones’ mechanics were changed back to where he had been while working with his father in high school.
“It all clicked from there,” says Jones. “I was growing and maturing and understanding the game at a faster pace.”
To Jones, blocking, receiving and controlling the opponents’ running game are important. But overall baseball knowledge is a major key to catching.
“My dad and grandpa gave me that big piece,” says Jones. “You need that support staff. Now they can let go and let the Reds do the magic. I text my dad every single night. He’s learning from me now.”
Playing 18 games this summer in the new MLB Draft League with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), Jones hit .237 (9-of-38) with one homer, one double, seven RBIs, six runs and .725 OPS (.383/.342). He learned from manager Coco Crisp and coach Ron Mahay — both former big leaguers.
While he still has years of eligibility left, Jones decided now was the time to move forward as a baseball player.
“I was ready,” says Jones, who was draft eligible three years out of high school. “I wanted to get my career going and get my foot in the door.”
Jones’ name was not called during the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft. The phone did ring five minutes after its conclusion with his agent telling him that Reds senior director of player personnel Jeff Graupe wanted the catcher.
In short order, he was traveling to Goodyear, Ariz., to take a physical and sign his contract with scouting supervisor Andy Stack.
“It was not the money I was expecting, but you don’t make your money until you get to the big leagues,” says Jones, who has began training. He and other free agents and draftees will see if the Reds assign them to the Arizona League, send them out to an affiliate (Low Class-A Daytona, Fla., Tortugas, High Class-A Dayton, Ohio, Dragons, Double-A Chattanooga, Tenn., Lookouts, Triple-A Louisville, Ky., Bats) or just keep working at camp.
“Nobody knows what to expect,” says Jones. “It’s where they need help in the organization.”
Jones spent the summer of 2020 with the Brent McNeil-coached Turf Monsters in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Among those running the CSL were Phil Wade and Blake Hibler, who coached Jones on Team Indiana in the Fall of 2016 and 2017.
Outside the all-star series, Jones was at Mississippi State in the summer of 2018. He was the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Newport (R.I.) Gulls in 2019.
Jones was pursuing a Recreation and Park Administration at Illinois State. He says he could complete it in another year.

Hayden Jones on Fox 55.
Hayden Jones (Illinois State University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Illinois State University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Illinois University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)
Hayden Jones (24) (Illinois State University Photo)
Savannah Shinn and Hayden Jones.
Hayden Jones (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

Indiana University southpaw Sommer goes drafted by Chicago White Sox

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

Tommy Sommer knows the value of speed and pitch movement.
But the 10th-round selection in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox also sees the value in poise under pressure.
Now 22. Sommer has been doing it since he was young.
“I have really good feel for the game and I’ve always been good at managing situations,” says Sommer, who pitched four seasons (2018-21) at Indiana University. “All those things come naturally to me.
“Velocity and off-speed pitches are important, but handling emotions is taken for granted,” says Somer. “All of that stuff is an asset to me.
“My dad is a big inspiration. He was a pro athlete. I’ve been in locker rooms since 3 and 4 years old.”
Tommy was in some high-pressure moments during his travel ball days with the Indiana Bulls and saw his father — former soccer goalkeeper Juergen Sommer — on some big stages.
The elder Juergen, who shined at Culver Military Academy and IU, earned 10 caps on the U.S. National Team, and was he first American goalie to play in the FA Premier League.
Juergen was playing for Major League Soccer’s Columbus (Ohio) Crew when oldest son Tommy was born and the New England Revolution (Boston) when youngest son Noah (now 19 and a Pre-Medical student at Vanderbilt University) came into the world. He has coached keepers for the U.S. Men’s National team and for the Indy Eleven and runs Carmel FC.
Tommy Sommer played soccer while growing up, but fell in love with the diamond.
“Baseball has carved a great path for me,” says Sommer, who has done from playing wiffleball in the back yard in Columbus with mother Susie (who is now a realtor) to T-ball at First Baptist Church after the family moved to Carmel, Ind., to travel ball (Smithville Gators, Indiana Nitro and then the Indiana Bulls in high school — three summers with Dave Taylor as head coach and two with Sean Laird at 16U and 17U).
“(Taylor) let us grow as baseball players and would teach from mistakes,” says Sommer. “(Laird) was more hands-on. He wanted you to put your best foot forward and hold yourself accountable.
“He wanted you to be more aggressive. You’re going after something (a college scholarship or pro contract) and developing a future in the game.”
Sommer graduated in 2017 from Carmel High School, where he played three seasons for Dan Roman and one for Matt Buczkowski. He appreciates the opportunities afforded by both Greyhounds bench bosses.
When it came deciding on college, Sommer was more than familiar with IU with his family’s ties to the school.
“We had family gatherings in Brown County,” says Sommer. “It was almost too comfortable.”
He was enticed by offers from Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference schools, but Sommer saw in Indiana the chance to play right away in the competitive Big Ten Conference. He played one season with Chris Lemonis as head coach and Kyle Bunn as pitching coach and three with Jeff Mercer and Justin Parker in those roles.
Sommer made 45 mound appearances (24 as a starter) with a 13-9 record, two saves and a 3.17 earned run average. In 157 2/3 innings, he struck out 160 and walked 71. He helped the Hoosiers win the Big Ten regular-season title in 2019.
In 2021, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder made 12 starts and went 5-4 with a 4.60 ERA. He fanned 69 and walked 38 in 62 2/3 innings.
He also earned a Finance degree from IU’s Kelley School of Business in May.
Prior to the MLB Draft, Sommer pitched three innings for the Cape Cod League’s Falmouth Commodores. He was on the Cape when the White Sox picked him and is now at a mini-camp in Birmingham, Ala. After that, some will go to Glendale, Ariz., and on to affiliate teams. The top four farm teams in the system are the Low Class-A Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers, High Class-A Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash, Double-A Birmingham Barons and Triple-A Charlotte (N.C.) Knights.
After a shortened 2020 season at IU because of COVID-19, Sommer pitched in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
“It was fun toe play with kids I played with or against for a decade,” says Sommer. “It was a unique experience.”
He also got the chance to work with pitching instructor Jay Lehr at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park. In the winter, Sommer had gone to The Barn in Lapel and got pointers from White Sox Director of Amateur Scouting Mike Shirley and White Sox area scout Justin Wechsler, a Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School graduate who pitched at Ball State University and in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
In 2019, Sommer was a substitute arm for the Prospect League’s Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex while also rehabbing from knee surgery and training with Lehr.
The lefty was with the Northwoods League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers in the summer of 2018.
Sommer throws a four-seam fastball which sits between 88 to 92 mph.
He also employs a cutter which runs away from left-handed batters and into right-handers.
“I want to induce weak contact,” says Sommer of the cutter. “It’s a good pitch in counts where someone is hunting a fastball.
“You get them off thinking they’re in a dead-red fastball count.”
The change-up is where Sommer gets strikeouts in the bottom of the strike zone.
“It spins sideways and drops off the table,” says Sommer. “There is vertical depth and halo spin. It’s the opposite of a gyro ball.”
Sommer mixes in his curve to let hitters know that’s a part of his arsenal.

Talking Hoosier Baseball Podcast chat with Tommy Sommer
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (left) and head coach Jeff Mercer (Indiana University Photo)
Indiana University —2019 Big Ten Conference baseball champions.
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer with the 2019 Big Ten Conference championship trophy. (Indiana University Photo)
The Hoosiers mug with the 2019 Big Ten Conference baseball championship trophy.
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Image)
Hug and hardware of Tommy Sommer.
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Susie, Tommy and Juergen Sommer.






Former Northrop, Cincinnati lefty Schoenle signs as free agent with Chicago White Sox organization

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

Garrett Schoenle was a very good passer during his football days at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School.
On the strength of Schoenle’s left arm, head coach Jason Doerffler had his Bruins go to the air often.
“We spread it out and threw 40 passes a game,” says Schoenle. “I was baseball player who could throw it and we tried to use that to our advantage.”
When the 2017 Northrop graduate left the program he was the all-time leader in passing yards and completions.
Heading into his junior baseball season, Schoenle had gotten no offers for the diamond. But some bigger schools were interested in him for the gridiron.
Schoenle, who also played two years of high school basketball, really began attracting college baseball teams in the spring of 2016 when he was the News-Sentinel Player of the Year and on the American Family Insurance/All-Indiana Team. He helped Northrop go 20-5 overall and 14-0 in the Summit Athletic Conference while winning the IHSAA Class 4A Fort Wayne Carroll Sectional.
Southpaw Schoenle was the 2017 Gatorade Indiana High School Baseball Player of the Year and an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star.
The Cincinnati Reds selected him in the 30th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but Schoenle was offered the chance to pitch at the University of Cincinnati by then-Bearcats head coach Ty Neal and went the college route.
By the time the hurler arrived on-campus Scott Googins had taken over as UC head coach with J.D. Heilman as pitching coach.
“They gave me a platform to showcase my skills at the Division I level,” says Schoenle of Googins and Heilman.
In four seasons (2018-21), Schoenle made 37 mound appearances (30 starts) and went 11-5 with two saves and 5.13 earned run average. In 152 2/3 innings, he produced 174 strikeouts and 98 walks.
Making 15 starts in 2021, Schoenle posted a 6-3 mark with one complete game and a 4.18 ERA. He fanned 89 and walked 24 in 75 1/3 innings.
He at the front of the weekend rotation as a senior.
“I tried to step up and be a leader,” says Schoenle, who was American Athletic Conference member Cincinnati’s “Sunday” starter as a sophomore in the pre-COVID-19 season of 2019.
As a freshman in 2018, Schoenle learned in January that he had a torn labrum. Wanting to avoid surgery at all costs, he rehabbed, got stronger and made his collegiate debut in April.
In the summer of 2019, Schoenele was with the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Vermont Mountaineers (Montpelier, Vt.). He used the summer of 2020 to make himself better and to fine-tune.
After the 2021 spring season, Schoenle played for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio) in the new MLB Draft League. He signed this week with the Chicago White Sox as an undrafted free agent.
“They way I perceived it (the MLB Draft League) had the same talent as Cape Cod, but with older draft-eligible guys,” says Schoenle, 23. “I came out of the pen and got a few starts before the draft and came home (to Fort Wayne) after that,”
About 45 minutes after the draft concluded on July 13, White Sox area scout Phil Gulley called.
Was Schoenle interested in going with Chicago’s American League team?
“Of course,” says Schoenle, who is now at a mini-camp for draftees and signees in Birmingham, Ala. After that some will be sent to Glendale, Ariz., and assigned to a minor league affiliate and others will be kept in camp.
The top four farm clubs in the White Sox system are the Low Class-A Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers, High Class-A Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash, Double-A Birmingham Barons and Triple-A Charlotte (N.C.) Knights.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Schoenle throws five pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm slot — four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, change-up and splitter. His four-seamer sits at 91 to 94 mph and was up to 96 in the spring. He describes the action of curveball to be somewhere between a curve and a slider.
Schoenle tosses a “circle” change and the splitter — which drops — was added to his repertoire this past season.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Schoenle played his first organized baseball at New Haven Baseball Association from age 4 to 12. His 12U to 14U seasons were spent with the traveling New Haven Bulldogs and his father — Jeff — was the coach. Jeff Schoenle was a shortstop while at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne.
Garrett competed in the Midwest Big League at Saint Joe Little League from 15 to 18, even playing a few times as a lefty-throwing shortstop.
“Being left-handed, that’s opened a lot of doors for me in my career,” says Schoenle, who throws and hits from the left side but punted a football with his right toe. “I’m also an ultra-competitor and that helped me to where I am.”
As a teen, Schoenle went to morning football workouts and 7-on-7 camps and also honed his baseball skills.
“I spent my time during the summer trying to be the best athlete I could,” says Schoenle.
As a Northrop baseball player, Schoenle played for Bruins head coach Matt Brumbaugh and pitching coach Dan O’Reilly.
“Brum is one of the most influential people in my baseball career,” says Schoenle. “There’s a lot of people to thank in my journey and he’s definitely one of them.”
O’Reilly pitched at Iowa State University and then in pro ball.
“Having some people who had been there is big when you have those dreams yourself,” says Schoenle.
With an interest in education and coaching, Schoenle pursued a History degree at Cincinnati and graduated last semester.
“I always want to get into teaching,” says Schoenle. “My dad’s a teacher (of Social Studies at Fort Wayne’s Jefferson Middle School).
“I want to have an opportunity to teach and coach and spread my knowledge to youth one day.”
Garrett is the oldest of Jeff and Parkview Mental Health counselor Kim Schoenle’s four children.
Gavin Schoenle (21) is a student at Indiana University. He was on many of the same teams as Garrett and played one football season at Ohio Dominican University.
Gradyn Schoenle (17) plays football and baseball and is heading into his junior year at Northrop.
Gabbey Schoenle (13) runs cross country. She is going into the eighth grade Jefferson Middle School.

WANE-TV video on Garrett Schoenle’s signing with the Chicago White Sox.
Garrett Schoenle (University of Cincinnati Photo)
Garrett Schoenle (University of Cincinnati Photo)
Garrett Schoenle (University of Cincinnati Photo)
Garrett Schoenle (University of Cincinnati Photo)

Benedictine’s Castillo enjoying summer opportunity in Illinois Valley

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

Playing with and against players from bigger schools, Damen Castillo enjoys showing what he can do on a baseball diamond.
Castillo, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound righty-swinging/throwing first baseman, plays during the spring at NCAA Division III Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. This summer, the Highland (Ind.) High School graduate is with the Prospect League’s Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp in the team’s first season in Peru, Ill.
“It’s the competition level,” says Castillo, 21. “The pace of play is faster than what I come from.
“It’s fun being around guys from different schools like that.”
Of the 31 players listed on the team’s online roster, 18 are from Illinois with eight from California and one each from Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Castillo is one of six players from NCAA D-III schools (the others are pitchers Jake Dahl of Rockford University, Chandler Kerr of Concordia University Chicago and Justin Rios and Jason Shanner of North Central College and infielder Garry Maynard of Concordia University Chicago).
There are 20 from NCAA D-I, two from NCAA D-II and three from National Junior College Athletic Association institutions.
Teams on Illinois Valley’s schedule, which consists of squads from the Wabash River, Great River, Prairie Land divisions, boasts no less than 105 D-I players.
The Pistol Shrimp are owned and managed by John Jakiemiec, who co-owns a player development academy in Naperville, Ill., Evolution Athletics.
“He’s been great,” says Castillo of Jakiemiec. “When we play, it’s real serious.
“You get your work in and still try to win at the same time.
“It’s been a fun summer.”
Jakiemiec, who played baseball at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., uses his Ivy League education to throw out random facts during bus trips.
“We don’t always know what he’s talking about,” says Castillo. “But we laugh.”
Through 25 games with the Pistol Shrimp, Castillo was hitting .280 (23-of-82) with five home runs, four doubles, 14 runs batted in and 10 runs scored.
“One of my best qualities as a hitter is the ability to drive the ball to the right side of the field,” says Castillo. “I get pitched away and I get a lot of off-speed. Over the years I’ve gotten good at hitting the outside pitch.”
Adam Smith is the head coach at Benedictine.
“He’s been real supportive,” says Castillo of Smith. “He come to me with things he think I can change.”
Castillo appreciates how Smith keeps practices loose and competitive.
“Our team tends to do better when things are like that,” says Castillo, who helped the Eagles go 29-13 overall and 15-5 in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference in 2021. “We do competition things in practice. It’s better than taking mass ground balls or BP.
“It makes it fun.”
In 42 games (all as a starter), Castillo hit .347 (61-of-176) with nine homers, one triple, 18 doubles, 51 RBIs, 35 runs and a 1.009 OPS (.395 on-base percentage plus .614 slugging average).
The 2021 season was his third at Benedictine. In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he started all seven games and hit .217 (5-of-23) with one extra-base hit (a double), four RBIs, three runs and a .557 OPS (.296/.261).
As a freshman in 2019, Castillo played a little bit of third base before becoming a full-time first baseman. In 28 games (24 as a starter), he hit .323 (32-of-99) with four homers, six doubles, 21 RBIs, 16 runs and a .885 OPS (.380/.505).
With two years of eligibility left, Castillo is a year away from earning a degree in Management of Organizational Behavior through the Goodwin College of Business.
Castillo and his Eagles teammates are to report back to campus in late August and will get right to work for about eight weeks of workouts before “captain’s practice” where NCAA D-III rules limit contact by the coaching staff.
Born and raised in Highland to Damen and Jodee Castillo with little sister Angelica (a volleyball and softball athlete entering her senior year at Highland High in 2021-22), “D” played travel ball around his hometown until 12 and then went with the Dave Griffiin-coached Indiana Playmakers, Morris (coached by Jim Tucker), Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
When the Midwest Collegiate League shut down and Castillo was not able to play for the Southland Vikings in 2020, he assisted Brogan with the Irish.
“He has been the closest coach to me,” says Castillo of Brogan. The two talk every other day.
This year, Castillo helps Brogan out in practice when his schedule allows.
John Bogner was Castillo’s coach at Highland and had the third baseman on the varsity since early in his freshmen year with the Trojans.
“He was a great high school coach and I learned a lot from him,” says Castillo, who stays in touch with Bogner and dropped by practice during the end of 2021 season to hit with the Highland team.

Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)
Damen Castillo (Benedictine University Photo)
Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)

’20 Chesterton grad Weller winds up at Arizona Western College

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Max Weller did not get to have a senior baseball season at Chesterton (Ind.) High School.

Now he’s enjoying a unique diamond and educational experience in the sunny Southwest. 

Batting in the No. 3 hole, the righty-swinging freshman center fielder is hitting .412 (21-of-51) with two home runs, two triples, six doubles, 23 runs batted in, 21 runs scored, 12 walks, six times hit by pitch and three stolen bases for Arizona Western College in Yuma. 

The Madators (14-4) are members of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference and National Junior College Athletic Association Division I.

Max (19) is the youngest of Matt and Jennifer Weller’s three sons. Trent (23) and Sam (20) both played soccer at Chesterton.

Max decided a day or two after Christmas 2020 to transfer from Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill. — where he spent the fall — to Arizona Western College (a school that also recruited him in high school). He packed up all he had at his Illinois apartment in his truck and went with his parents on a 26-hour drive.

“It was a journey out here,” says Weller. “But all for the good.

“I loved it out here. We get to practice outside reps every single day.”

Using a machine, AWC outfielders field pop-ups and work on their communication.

Most teams on the Matadors’ schedule use wood bats.

“The metal bat games would drag out too long,” says Weller. “The (wood bat) barrel is definitely smaller and does not have as much pop. But there are many truer hits and it’s so much more satisfying.”

Good wood is what 6-foot, 180-pound Weller got on the ball in the first game of a home doubleheader March 9 against Chandler-Gilbert Community College and smacked a homer over the right field fence at Walt Kamman Field. His other college bomb came in a Feb. 18 win against Northeastern in which he plated seven runs.

Weller’s lone four-bagger in high school came as a sophomore in a junior varsity win at LaPorte.

Weller played on the CHS freshmen team in 2017, moved up to JV in 2018 and was on the varsity in 2019, sharing time in right field with Tyler Nelson and at designated hitter.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Campbell leads the Chesterton Trojans.

“He taught me the foundations of the game and how to move runners from first to second,” says Weller of Campbell. “I came to understand the concept that everybody has a role. 

“You’ve got to trust the system.”

For a time in high school, Weller was called “Sunshine.” Then wearing long locks, he resembled Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from the movie, “Remember The Titans.”

COVID-19 took away spring sports in Indiana in 2020. But Weller found a summer baseball home.

Many circuits canceled their seasons, but the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., sprang up and Weller was one of a few who had not yet played past high school to participate. 

“I loved it,” says Weller, who was assigned to the CSL’s A-Team. “There was a lot of good talent.”

Cole Barr, Cooper Trinkle, Daylan Nanny and Hayden Wynja were among his A-Team mates.

Weller’s weekly routine was to travel from northwest Indiana to his grandparents’ lake house in Monticello, Ind., on Sunday night and then drove back and forth for Monday and Tuesday games at Grand Park.

Weller’s says he has connections for the Grand Park or Valley League in Virginia this summer, but could land elsewhere.

“It’s about finding an opening,” says Weller.

Having chosen to attend Wabash Valley, Weller joined the Warriors in the fall of 2020. Because of the pandemic there were no outside games, but lots of intrasquad action against players bound for NCAA Division I or — in some cases — those that had already played at that level.

“I saw all these great pitches,” says Weller. “I learned how to play with a (ball-strike) count. 

“We were practicing everyday for every single week. I was managing that load as student-athlete. All those reps were beneficial.”

Wabash Valley, currently ranked No. 1 in NJCAA D-I, has been led for a quarter century by Rob Fournier.

“He had a lot of knowledge on the game,” says Weller of Fournier. “He was a really personable guy, but he worked you really hard during practice.”

At Arizona Western, Drew Keehn is the head coach. Weller works closely with assistant Zeke Mitchem.

Keehn played at Central Arizona College and in the Colorado Rockies organization.

Mitchem, who played at Brown Mackie College and Tri-State University (now Trine University in Angola, Ind.) has coached at Georgia College, Henderson State University, Drexel University and Marshall University as well as in Germany, Australia and Costa Rica.

Being at AWC has also afforded Weller the opportunity to learn about many cultures and bond with young men from all over the globe.

Arizona Western College is home to international students from over 30 countries.

Besides Indiana’s Weller, there are two Matadors with hometowns in Arizona plus one each from California, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Utah plus seven from Dominican Republic, three from Netherlands, two from Australia, two from Saskatchewan, two from Venezuela and one each from Czech Republic and Mexico.

Weller’s roommate is Nevada’s D.J. Contreras. They share a dormitory suite with two Dominicans.

“Everyone is open-minded here,” says Weller. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of so far.”

Contreras is from Las Vegas. Weller smacked three doubles for the Matadors in a Feb. 19 trip to Vegas to play a doubleheader with the College of Southern Nevada — the same school where slugger Bryce Harper played prior to pro ball.

Associate athletic director Tim Slack calls the action — home and away — on the Arizona Western College Athletics Facebook page.

Weller is working toward an Associate Degree in Science at the two-year school. This term he is taking Calculus, Chemistry and Astronomy (online).

He takes most of his meals in the campus cafeteria. 

“I load up on lunch and get the calories up,” says Weller. “You’re definitely going to burn them in practice.”

After playing in a local league, Weller started playing travel ball at 10U with he Chesterton Slammers. Uncle Brian Eaton was his head coach for three summers. The team then changed its name to the Indiana Strikers. Weller played his 14U summer with the Indiana Breakers.

Rob Kucharski was Weller’s head coach at 15U and 16U with the Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training team. That squad had many northwestern Indiana players.

At 17U, Weller played for the 18U Midwest Rangers. The Jeff Bohlen-coached team based out of Chicago Heights, Ill., featured South Central (Union Mills)’s Carson Husmann and Kyle Schmack.

That fall, Weller was with the Cangelosi Sparks with Andrew Massey as head coach and Lucas Fritsch as an assistant.

Weller split the summer of 2020 between the Grand Park league and the Midwest Irish 18U team coached by Shane Brogran.

Among Weller’s other travel teammates has been Frank Podkul, who played at Andrean High School and Franklin College.

Max Weller, a 2020 Chesterton (Ind.) High School graduate, is a freshman center fielder on the Arizona Western College baseball team in Yuma, Ariz. (Arizona Western College Photo)

Taylor U. assistant Atkinson has seen so much baseball around Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Having Rick Atkinson around has given the baseball program at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., “second eyes” for the better part of the last two decades.

“I’m the Don Zimmer of the outfit,” says Atkinson, who has seen plenty on a diamond in his 73 years and has lent his insights to the Trojans for 18 years — the past 16 on a coaching staff headed by Kyle Gould

Bone cancer has not allowed the former Taylor player and longtime Gas City, Ind., resident to travel with the team on its 2021 trips to Arizona and Tennessee.

“I was looking forward to going,” says Atkinson, who tracks the 7-3 Trojans on the internet.

While COVID-19 precautions have also kept him away recently, Atkinson has shared plenty of diamond wisdom over the years.

“On the road, Kyle and I would be together and talk about baseball, the team and what-not,” says Atkinson. “We would not always agree. But when we left our room we were on the same page.”

Atkinson’s health no longer allows him, but he used to coach first base for the Trojans.

“I can’t move too quick,” says Atkinson. The cancer has eaten away his second vertebrae. “It’s good medicine to go over there when I don’t feel good.”

It had once been Atkinson’s responsibility to mow and water the grass and paint the lines at Winterholter Field. 

“All of the sudden we can’t do that,” says Atkinson.

With the advent of artificial turf, those staples of baseball coaching are no longer necessary.

Rick and Sondra Atkinson have three children who all live nearby — Molly and Abby in Gas City and Adam in Muncie. There are eight grandchildren.

“They love to come over to Taylor and hit in the barn or get in the new press box,” says Atkinson. 

A three-time Hall of Famer — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Grant County (Ind.) as an individual and Taylor University as part of a team — Atkinson was a standout third baseman for Jack King-coached Taylor teams from 1966-68 and played one season at Greenville (Ill.) College before playing in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Playing for NAIA Coach of the Year Bob Smith at Greenville in 1969, righty-swinging corner infielder Atkinson hit 12 home runs in 22 games and lead NAIA in homers per game (.55). He was also third in runs batted in per contest (1.55) while hitting .428. Greenville lost in the regional that year and Taylor went on to the NAIA World Series. Smith was also president of the International Baseball Federation that helped get the sport in the Olympics.

As a fast-pitch player, Atkinson helped the Plymouth Club Bombers to three Amateur Softball Association state titles and two runner-up finishes.

Atkinson was in secondary education for 38 years (physical education and health) — eight at Eastbrook High In Marion, Ind., and 30 at Mississinewa High in Gas City. 

At Eastbrook, he was on the football staff with Terry Hoeppner (who went on to be head coach at Miami University in Ohio and Indiana University) at Eastbrook. 

Before returning in 2005, Atkinson served Mississinewa for 24 years as the athletic director and 20 years as the Indians’ baseball coach. He was the North head coach in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1990.

It was while dining at Cracker Barrel that Atkinson ran into Larry Winterholter who asked him to join his coaching staff at Taylor.

“Will you come back and help me?” Atkinson says of Winterholter’s question. “I’ve been there ever since.”

Gould was a freshman during Atkinson’s first season as as Trojans coach.

“We developed a good relationship,” says Atkinson. “A lot of people think I’m Kyle’s dad.”

Many relationships were formed through baseball over the decades. Atkinson got to know Dick Siler when they were both high school coaches.

“They had the ugliest uniforms I’ve ever seen,” says Atkinson of the bright red and yellow donned by Siler’s Elkhart Memorial High School teams, which included all-star pitcher Matt Ruess in 1990.

The friendship continued when they both began college coaching at Crossroads League schools — Atkinson at Taylor and Siler at Bethel.

Atkinson invited Siler to stay with him whenever he was in the area. IHSBCA Hall of Famer Siler died in 2020.

A 1965 graduate of Mississinewa, Atkinson earned 11 varsity letters playing baseball and basketball for coach Junior Mannis and football for coach Charlie Fisher. Nine of those teams won conference championships.

One of his fondest memories is playing five games in three different places in the same day.

“When I was 15 we had a high school doubleheader,” says Atkinson. “My mom took me to Kokomo for an American Legion doubleheader (featuring Jonesboro Post 95) then to Indianapolis for semipro tournament (with the Twin City Bankers). 

“We won all five games that day.”

A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers and Portland Rockets is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

Atkinson played against one of former major league pitcher and Anderson, Ind., native Carl Erskine’s sons.

Erskine doesn’t address Atkinson by name. It’s “Hey, Gas City!”

He was 14 when Atkinson started playing for the Bankers. His father, John, was the team’s manager. 

John Atkinson helped build a diamond that is still used today.

There were days when young Rick sold Cokes while sitting on the back part of a station wagon.

At 15, the Bankers placed third in the state tournament and all-stater Atkinson hit .454.

Atkinson recalls when amateur baseball went from wood to metal bats.

“I didn’t like it,” says Atkinson. “I collect fungos. None of them are aluminum.

“I do not remember breaking a bat. I’m sure I did.”

He does remember mending some clubs.

To keep wood bats in circulation, Atkinson used to use small black brad nails to hold them together.

For a few years, Atkinson was in charge of Taylor hitters.

He’d study the players’ swing to see what suited him best. It was easy to identify the best ones.

“A blind man can come into this barn and tell who the good hitters are just by the sound,” says Atkinson. “It’s a different sound.”

Leading a Taylor-based team in a collegiate wood bat league, Atkinson counted future big league center fielder Kevin Kiermaier as one of his players.

Atkinson encouraged the Fort Wayne Bishop Luers graduate to cash in on his speed.

“I know Coach, bunt the ball,” says Atkinson of Kiermaier’s echoing what the coach often told him. “They don’t teach the bunt anymore.”

The coach also lent his know-how with the independent professional Dubois County Dragons in Huntingburg, Ind., and the Anderson (Ind.) Lawmen. The latter team was managed by Texas Rangers bird dog scout Jay Welker and featured Brian Cruz who also played for Atkinson at Mississinewa.

For a few years, Atkinson was a camp director for Little League Central Region Headquarters in Indianapolis.

“I really loved it,” says Atkinson. “Kids from all over the country would come in.”

Campers and counselors affectionately referred to Atkinson as “Papa Bear.”

Rick Atkinson, a longtime assistant baseball coach at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., is the member of the Indiana High School Baseball Association, Grant County (Ind.) and Taylor University halls of fame. (Taylor University Photo)

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.