Tag Archives: Atlanta Braves

Kinzer enjoys baseball bonds as player, scout, agent, coach

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

Matt Kinzer has an eye for baseball talent.
The former Norwell High School (Ossian, Ind.) and Purdue University athlete who played in the majors and the National Football League was living in Fort Wayne, Ind., when he became an amateur scout in 1995 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Kinzer was responsible for assessing amateur players in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Ontario and Quebec.
After five years with Tampa Bay, Kinzer spent a decade as a baseball agent for Reynolds Sports Management, whose owner and CEO is Larry Reynolds (older brother of big league second baseman Harold Reynolds).
“I was his recruiting coordinator for the whole country,” says Kinzer. “We hoped these amateurs are going to make the big leagues and get paid.”
Among others, Kinzer got the Upton brothers — B.J. and Justin — to commit to the company.
LaTroy Hawkins, a Gary, Ind., native who pitched in 1,042 games over 21 MLB seasons, was also a Kinzer client and later went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
At the 2010 Winter Meetings, Dan Jennings (who had been with the Devil Rays) hired Kinzer as a pro scout for the Miami Marlins.
Kinzer went to minor league games and an occasional major league contest to evaluate players and file reports for potential trade opportunities.
The first year he scouted the entire Midwest League out of Fort Wayne. During his five years with the Marlins, he also did international scouting in the Dominican Republic.
While Kinzer was still with the Marlins, the Atlanta Braves called for permission to interview him to scout on the major league side and take on special assignments. He talked with general manager John Coppolella and accepted the deal.
“That gave me a seat at the big table,” says Kinzer, who worked with top executives including president John Hart and senior advisor John Schuerholz in giving opinions and developing a preferential list of who could be traded and who was hands-off in the Braves minor league system. “It took us a couple of years to turn that club around.”
Kinzer also did advanced scouting to check out possible playoff opponents for Atlanta. He had the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League and Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the American League.
Because of COVID-19 and budgetary reasons, the Braves dismissed the entire major league scouting staff toward the end of the 2020 season.
Leading up to the Tokyo Olympics (which were postponed from 2020 to 2021), Kinzer selected by his peers to sit on the committee that chose Team USA. They started with a big pool and narrowed it down to the final roster.
“It was hard assignment because you could only get guys not on a 40-man roster or had get permission from a club for them to play,” says Kinzer. “It was an honor to be part of the decision-making for our country.”
When Kinzer joined the process, Joe Girardi was Team USA manager. When Girardi became Philadelphia Phillies manager the job was passed to Scott Brosius and it wound up with Mike Scioscia.
“I got to listen to Joe Girardi on how he likes to design a team and I said to myself, ‘this is pretty cool,’” says Kinzer. “It was a very humbling experience. You put all those years into working the game of baseball and someone has recognized your ability to evaluate.”
More recently, Kinzer has lent his appraisal skills as a consultant for Program 15 — a part of New Balance Future Stars baseball tournaments. He lives in Lakeland, Fla., and writes player reports on weekends.
Kinzer is also a special events coordinator and fundraising director for Major League Fishing — a circuit that features the world’s top bass anglers.
He is helping prepare for a charity fishing event featuring current and former major leaguers Nov. 19-21 in Guntersville, Ala.
“I’ve spent three decades in the game professionally building trust with current and former guys and their second love is fishing,” says Kinzer. “I grew up on a pond and I liked fishing.”
Participants have baseball and angling in common.
“There’s a connection there,” says Kinzer. “They have a tight fraternity. They’re good old boys.”
Kinzer played youth baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Colin Lister and graduated from Norwell in 1981.
As a sophomore, it was discovered how well he did in booting a football and he led Indiana high schoolers in punting as a junior and senior. He went to Purdue on a full ride in football and also played baseball.
He was selected in the second round of the 1984 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cardinals and made his MLB debut in 1989 at age 25 and went on to pitch nine games for the 1989 Cardinals and 1990 Detroit Tigers. He punted seven times in his one NFL game with the Detroit Lions with a long of 42 yards in Week 5 of 1987 against the Green Bay Packers.
Kinzer, 58, has three sons who all played baseball and graduated from Homestead High School in Fort Wayne.
Taylor Kinzer (33) was drafted twice as a right-handed pitcher — once at the end of his high school career in 2006 in the 34th round by the Washington Nationals and then out of Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) in the 24th round in 2009 by the Los Angeles Angels and competed three seasons in the minors.
Derek Kinzer (31) was an outfielder for IHSAA Class 4A state runner Homestead in 2008, graduated in 2009 and also played at Taylor.
Jordan Kinzer (29) played junior college baseball and now serves in the U.S. Navy.
Matt Kinzer, a Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer, was head baseball coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in 1993 and 1994 and a volunteer assistant coach at Taylor 2011-14 and got to work with Trojans head coach Kyle Gould and assistant and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson.
‘Kyle is one of the best non-Division I coaches around,” says Kinzer. “It was an honor to share a bench with Coach A.
“The game itself creates a fraternity and a bond that lasts forever.”

Matt Kinzer.

Jeffersonville, Louisville grad Campbell makes most of year away from baseball games

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

Drew Campbell took a negative and turned it into a positive.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the quarantine of 2020 took away the ability to play baseball.
The Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate and former Olney (Ill.) Central and University of Louisville outfielder was heading into his second season in the Atlanta Braves organization when things came to a standstill. Major League Baseball eventually started up. Minor League Baseball did not.
“It was the longest time without baseball since I was born,” says Campbell, who turns 24 on Oct. 10. “It was definitely hard on me. But I did not lose my passion for the game.”
Eventually, Campbell was able to give lessons at Ellis Baseball Academy in Jeffersonville and that put things into perspective.
“Young kids just wanted to play baseball,” says Campbell. “They’re not worried about contracts or who they’re going to play for.
“So (the time away) was a good re-set for everybody. It’s definitely a kids’ game and sometimes we get away from that.”
Another benefit from teaching hitting is that it helped him with his own offensive game by figuring out a way to explain the concepts.
“It’s easy to stay sharp when I’m teaching someone to hit,” says Campbell. “The mental side means a lot more now that I’m older.”
To Campbell, that means taking care of himself — mentally and physically. He’s doing more reading and journaling and getting a handle on his nutrition and workout routine.
“I’m staying positive,” says Campbell, who doesn’t want to take negative thoughts onto the field.
At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, he has put 10 to 15 pounds on his frame in the last year and plans to add about 15 more in the off-season whether working out in Jeffersonville or Louisville. He eats six meals a day, lifts weights thee times a week and gets in hitting when he can.
“My nutrition is where I’ve really got to step up my game,” says Campbell. “I’m on the path to being the guy (the Braves) want me to be.
“That’s someone who hits for more power with more doubles and triples.”
While he missed two months while dealing with a pulled hamstring, Campbell played at three levels in 2021 — rookie-level (Florida Complex League Braves), Low Class-A (Augusta, Ga., GreenJackets) and High Class-A (Rome, Ga., Braves) — and hit .308 (32-of-104) with five home runs, three triples, seven doubles, 20 runs batted in and 32 runs scored in 27 games.
“I finished strong for the year,” says Campbell, who concluded the year with Rome. “I put myself in a good position for next year.”
Campbell, a lefty batter and thrower, played mostly in right field.
“That’s where I feel the most comfortable,” says Campbell. “But I’m an outfielder.
“I can go get the ball no matter where I’m at.”
Selected in the 23rd round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, Campbell hit .224 (24-of-107) with one homer, one triple, four doubles, seven RBIs and eight runs in 28 games that summer for Rome — then a Low Class-A club.
After that first pro season, he completed his course work at Louisville as a Sport Administration major and Criminal Justice minor.
Campbell logged three collegiate seasons — one at National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Olney Central (2017) and two at NCAA Division I Louisville (2018 and 2019).
He batted .294 (53-of-180) with seven homers, three triples, six doubles, 31 RBIs and 35 runs in 50 games at Olney Central for Blue Knights head coach Dennis Conley.
“It was an awesome experience,” says Campbell. “(Conley) is an all-time great coach. That’s Dennis Conley’s town. Everybody knows Dennis Conley. He parks where he wants.
“He really pushed me. Helped me through everything. He definitely cares about his players.”
At U of L, playing for Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell, Campbell hit .310 (108-of-348) with four homers, three triples, 23 doubles, 70 RBIs and 52 runs in 121 games (97 as a starter).
“To have the chance to play for (McDonnell) was awesome,” says Campbell. “I’m excited to see what he does with the Cardinals (in 2022).”
Louisville went 51-18 and played in 2019 College World Series. Campbell became the first U of L player to be named to the all-CWS team, hitting .462 (6-for-13) with three RBIs. Batting seventh and playing right field, he went 3-for-4 including a walk-off base hit in an elimination game against Mississippi State.
At Jim Patterson Stadium, there is a locker room dedicated to professionals that have played at Louisville. There Campbell is likely to run into people like Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis (Arizona Diamondbacks), New Albany’s Josh Rogers (Washington Nationals), 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick Henry Davis (Pittsburgh Pirates system) and San Francisco Giants minor leaguers Tyler Fitzgerald and Logan Wyatt.
Born in Jeffersonville, Campbell played T-ball at the YMCA in Clarksville and attended grade school and middle school there. He was at Jeff/GRC Little League, where he first played for Derek Ellis (who was later his head coach at Jeffersonville High and runs Ellis Baseball Academy) and then with the Louisville Longhorns and Ironmen travel teams as well as the Ricky Romans-managed Floyds Knobs American Legion Post 42 team.
Drew is the second of Tony and Keri Campbell’s four children. Nick Campbell was a senior at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville when Drew was a freshman.
“It was only time I got to play with my older brother,” says Drew of Nick, who is now 27. Kyle Campbell (16) is a sophomore and Andrea Campbell (15) a freshman — both at Jeffersonville.
Drew played his last three prep seasons at Jeffersonville and graduated in 2016. With the Red Devils, he was reunited with Derek Ellis.
“He teaches baseball the right way,” says Campbell, who counts Derek’s son, Drew Ellis, as one of his buddies.
Campbell was an all-state selection at Jeffersonville. In 2016, he slugged eight home runs, drove in 27 and scored 30 in 25 games and was named Southern Indiana Player of the Year in by the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Drew Campbell (Atlanta Braves Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)

NCAA Baseball Committee just one of many roles for Indiana State AD Clinkscales

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

All the hats that Sherard Clinkscales has donned thus far — many of the baseball variety — have helped him to his current role as athletic director at Indiana State University.
The former baseball and basketball player at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis and Purdue University went on to play and scout in professional baseball and coach in the college ranks before going into athletic administration. He was hired by then-ISU president Dr. Daniel Bradley to lead the Sycamores in February 2016 and now serves for current president Deborah J. Curtis.
Missouri Valley Conference member Indiana State fields baseball, basketball, cross country, football and track and field teams for men plus basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, track and field and volleyball teams for women.
Two weeks ago Clinkscales, 51, was named to the NCAA Baseball Committee. As the 2022 Division I season gets closer to the postseason, the committee will meet to discuss the teams that are trending up or down and then determine the top seeds. Committee members will become regional and super regional directors and serve as team administrators at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“We’ll make sure their experience is top notch,” says Clinkscales.
In 2021, Indiana State went 31-21 and played in the Nashville Regional. It was the eighth season for ISU alum Mitch Hannahs as Sycamores head coach.
While they never competed against one another, Clinkscale’s relationship with Hannahs goes way back.
“I know Mitch well,” says Clinkscales. “He’s a good man that I respect immensely. He’s one of the best coaches in the country.”
Clinkscales says Hannahs’ success stems from his understanding of players and an intuitiveness as a tactician.
“He has a knack for getting the best out of players and knows when to push them and when not to,” says Clinkscales. “He’s an excellent recruiter and finds guys that fit his system.
“He genuinely cares about his young men. He’s authentic. You always know where you stand with Mitch.”
While Indiana State is a northern school and — in football terms — is not in a power five conference, Sycamores baseball has long been competitive on a national level.
“That starts with Coach (Bob) Warn,” says Clinkscales of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer whose name is on the ISU baseball field. “I grew up in the ‘80s and Indiana State was the best program in the state of Indiana.
“Mitch was a part of that and he has taken that even further. Indiana State is just a wonderful institution. We get kids that love the game of baseball, love to play it and love to learn it.”
Clinkscales says generations of parents have come to understand the toughness that it takes to play in Terre Haute.
“They’re more than happy to send their kids to play for a man like Mitch,” says Clinkscales. “They know what they’re getting.”
A standout basketball player for Mike Miller, Clinkscales began getting noticed at the college level for his baseball skills with Brebeuf’s summer team.
“I was always a good athlete,” says Clinkscales, a 1989 Brebeuf graduate. “I played baseball because it was fun.”
The baseball Braves were coached by Kevin Stephenson.
“Coach was outstanding,” says Clinkscales of Stephenson. “He was a really good guy who stuck with me.”
At Purdue, Clinkscales played one season (1989-90) as a walk-on guard for Boilermakers head basketball coach Gene Keady and three springs for head baseball coach Dave Alexander (1990-92).
“(Keady and Alexander) stuck by me when I struggled,” says Clinkscales. “I owe everything to where I am today to Dave Alexander. Dave took a chance on me.
“He was tough, authentic and honest. Coach definitely cared about me and got the most out of me.”
The relationship continued a few years after his playing days when Clinkscales and Alexander were scouts in the same Midwest territories.
Right-handed pitcher Clinkscales was a “sandwich” round pick of the Kansas City Royals in the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (31st overall selection) and played for the 1992 Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, 1993 and 1994 Rockford (Ill.) Royals and 1994 Gulf Coast (Fla.) Royals.
What did Clinkscales appreciate most about being a player?
“The camaraderie and going to the ball park to spend time with buddies,” says Clinkscales. “Baseball is such a team sport. You’re getting to know guys (from diverse backgrounds).”
After being released by the Royals, Clinkscales went to extended spring training with the Chicago Cubs in 1995 then decided to pursue scouting and other ventures.
Clinkscales was an area scouting supervisor of the Atlanta Braves 1997-99, assistant director of scouting for the Tampa Bay Rays 1999-2001 then a professional and amateur scout for the Braves 2001-06. He was also founder and president of Indianapolis-based AfterSport Group, a consulting firm for high school, college and professional athletic communities.
“I absolutely loved it,” says Clinkscales of scouting. “It was one of the thrills of my life.”
He relished identifying potential big leaguers through observation. Baseball was not so analytics and stats-driven at that time.
“I was able to get to know the player,” says Clinkscales. “Make-up is everything. You have to be a tough son of a gun to play Major League Baseball. Only the strong survive.
“It comes down to toughness, luck, consistency and being in the right place at the right time.”
Then came the opportunity be pitching coach for head coach Dave Schrage at the University of Notre Dame for three seasons (2007-09).
“I’m grateful for the chance he took on a guy who’d never coached before,” says Clinkscales of Schrage, now head coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. “He saw the positive things. He knows the game inside and out.”
Clinkscales learned how difficult coaching can be.
“It’s hard,” says Clinkscales. “You have to really love coaching. It all starts with leadership. You have to work together as a team and assistants have to do their jobs well.
“It takes a special person to be a coach.”
Clinkscales equates coach with teacher.
“To get the most out of a young man that doesn’t know how much he has is a gift,” says Clinkscales, who has gotten to interview and hire many coaches in his AD role.
Clinkscales was Assistant Director of Championships for the NCAA in Indianapolis 2009-11 and Senior Associate Athletic Director at North Carolina State University 2011-16 — serving on the staff of Wolfpack AD Debbie Yow.
A holder of a History degree from Purdue in 1994, Clinkscales completed a masters in Sports Management from North Carolina State in 2016.
The fall semester at ISU begins Aug. 18 and young people are now back on the campus.
“I enjoy the student-athletes,” says Clinkscales. “It’s the purity that I really enjoy. They are students first and achieving in the classroom and on the field.
“You build relationships with students and coaches. They get kids to execute and learn how to deal with the losses. I’m working with a staff that loves doing what I’m doing. They work hard and pick each other up.
“I thank God I have the opportunity to be an athletic director.”
Clinkscales has two children — North Carolina Wesleyan University graduate Alex Clinkscales and Carnegie Mellon University graduate Tara Clinkscales. Sherard and second wife Monica reside in Terre Haute.

Sherard Clinkscales (Indiana State University Photo)

Kokomo graduate Perkins chooses Indiana University for next phase of mound career

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

Jack Perkins has decided to continue his college baseball career a little closer to home.
The 2018 Kokomo (Ind.) High School graduate pitched for the University of Louisville in 2019, missed 2020 while rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery and competed again for the Dan McDonnell-coached Cardinals in 2021.
Right-hander Perkins was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 39th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but chose instead to go to college.
As a U of L freshman, right-hander Perkins made 16 mound appearances (four as a starter) and went 3-0 with one save and a 4.18 earned run average for a pitching staff coached by Roger Williams. In 32 1/3 innings, he struck out 37 and walked 18. One of his starts was May 14, 2019 at Indiana University. He tossed three shutout innings then faced five batters with recording an out in the fourth.
Nine days later in a relief stint against Clemson, Perkins felt a tear in his elbow. Within a week, he had his operation and began his journey back.
Suiting up for the Snapping Turtles, Perkins started a few times during the 2020 season of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
The righty went back to Louisville, where he completed a double major in Finance and Marketing in three years (he came out of high school with several college credits) and got into 11 games (10 as a reliever) in 2021. Perkins was 1-1 with one save and a 7.31 ERA. He fanned 15 and walked 22 in 16 innings.
Perkins, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, competed for the CSL’s Turf Monsters at the beginning of this summer then waited to see if he was chosen in the 2021 MLB Draft (he was not).
He also opted to change schools. His final three choices coming out of high school were Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana.
This week, Perkins announced that he is transferring to IU where he will work with Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer, pitching coach Justin Parker and will be reunited with assistant and former Indiana Bulls coach Dan Held.
Jack visited Indiana and the pitcher came away impressed with Mercer and Parker.
“I made a great connection right away,” says Perkins, 21. “They’re great people as well as great coaches. My dad (Scott) came with me on the visit and thought the same thing.”
Perkins was with the Bulls n his 13U to 17U summer, including 16U with Held as head coach and Alex Graman as pitching coach.
“Dan Held is great guy,” says Perkins. “I loved playing for Dan. I’ve been close with him since high school.
“I’m very grateful for the Bulls organization and all they’ve done for me.”
Perkins, whose family moved to Westfield after he left high school, has been working with former big league pitcher Graman and Dr. Jamey Gordon at Pro-X Athlete Development at Grand Park the past couple of years.
It also helped Perkins in his decision to transfer to Indiana that already knew many Hoosiers players from competing with or against them in travel ball or in the College Summer League.
Perkins and Parker have already had conversations about “tunneling” each delivery from his high three-quarter overhand arm slot so the batter can’t tell the difference between his four-seamer, two-seamer, change-up, curveball or cutter coming out of his hand.
“We want to get all my pitches coming out of the same spot to create a little more deception and swing and miss,” says Perkins. “We’re feeding everything off the fastball.”
Perkins’ four-seam fastball sits at 94 to 97 mph and hit 99 in the spring.
At its best, Perkins’ change-up has been recorded on Trackman with 20 inches of vertical break and 14 inches of horizontal.
He describes his curve as having slurve action.
“It’s pretty hard and steep with a lot of late break,” says Perkins of a pitch he tends to throw in the 82 to 86 mph range.
The cutter is a pitch that Perkins has used to get out of jams with ground balls and quick outs. It has been clocked at up to 95 mph and can break in on left-handed hitters for weak contact or even broken bats.
Since his undergraduate work is complete, Perkins has the option of pursuing a masters or a graduate certificate.
While he secures an apartment in Bloomington, registers for classes and waits for his transfer to process so he can go on campus, Perkins is honing in Westfield.
“My goal to stay in shape, have a clean slate in the fall and get to work,” says Perkins, who has two years of remaining college eligibility.
Perkins was born and raised in Kokomo. He played T-ball through age 12 at what is now UCT Baseball.
At Kokomo High, Perkins played football for Wildcats head coach Brett Colby and baseball for Kats bench boss Sean Swan.
“They are the favorite coaches I’ve ever played for,” says Perkins of Colby and Swan. “They invested in you as a person and a player. They took the
invest in you as a person and a player. They took the extra effort to show why they care about you.
“There were tons of life lessons.”
Scott Perkins was a football player at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. His wife, Carrie, studied nursing at DePauw University.
Scott and Carrie have three children — Caitie, Jack and Brooklyn. Caitie started at IU-Bloomington, transferred to IU-Kokomo is on a path to being a nurse practitioner. Guatemala-born Brooklyn was adopted at a young age. She is entering her freshman year at Guerin Catholic High School in Carmel, Ind.

Jack Perkins
Jack Perkins (University of Louisville Photo)
Jack Perkins (University of Louisville Photo)
Jack Perkins (University of Louisville Photo)

Whitehead promotes lifelong lessons with Park Tudor Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s about baseball and beyond for Courtney Whitehead as head coach at Park Tudor School on the north side of Indianapolis.

Whitehead is in his 19th season leading the Panthers program. He is also the Upper School athletic director at the private K-12 school (Grades K-5 in the Lower School, 6-8 in the Middle School and 9-12 in the Upper School – 9-12). The institution, which has about 375 in the Upper School, sports a 100 percent college placement rate.

“We’re big on education-based athletics and helping shape these young men and prepare them for their future,” says Whitehead. “It’s about having them learn lifelong lessons through baseball and what it means to be a good teammate, be focused, win and lose with grace and learn how to compete.

“Pretty soon they’ll have to compete in the game of life and it’s pretty tough out there.”

As far as the baseball part of the equation?

“We want to be fundamentally sound, have a high baseball I.Q., throw strikes (as pitchers) and make the right play,” says Whitehead. “We play fundamentally well and we execute.”

Park Tudor has 21 players in the program in 2021 and plays both a varsity and junior varsity schedule. That means players are asked to play multiple positions and many get a chance to pitch.

“Guys have to be ready for their turn in the rotation,” says Whitehead, whose Panthers compete in the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). 

The baseball-playing schools see each other once each during the season.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Cascade (the 2021 host), Covenant Christian, Monrovia, Speedway and University. Park Tudor has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2013. A 1A state championship was earned in 1999 (Bob Hildebrand was head coach).

Among the other teams on the PT schedule are Brebeuf Jesuit, Bishop Chatard, Crawfordsville, Knightstown, Lapel, Scecina, South Putnam, Waldron and Wapahani.

Micah Johnson, a 2009 Park Tudor graduate, was a standout at Indiana University and played in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He is now blossoming in the art world, frequently traveling back and forth from Indy to LA.

Current Panthers senior C.J. Richmond has committed to Western Illinois University. Whitehead says he expects that underclassmen will have a chance to play college baseball.

Park Tudor plays its home games on its campus located on College Avenue — about three miles northwest of Bishop Chatard High School and three miles northeast of Butler University.

A large backstop/net system was just installed at the Panthers’ field, which typically hosts IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments but with the construction of a new wellness center those events will be hosted in 2021 by Cascade.

In a non-COVID-19 year, Park Tudor will usually field a sixth grade team and a seventh/eighth grade squad that take on area independent and public middle schools.

“This is not a normal year,” says Whitehead. “(Grades 6-8) are practicing but not competing due to the pandemic.”

Whitehead is a 1996 graduate of Crawfordsville High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge and longtime assistant Rhett Welliever and was a teammate of current Athenians head coach Brett Motz.

“My four years we won a lot of ball games,” says Whitehead. “Coach Froedge was a big fundamentals guy. We were the start of Crawfordsville being really good.

“We went 30-3 and lost to Portage in semistate my junior year. That’s when there was one class.”

A celebration honoring Froedge was postponed in 2020 and is slated for Saturday, May 15 when Park Tudor plays at Crawfordsville. Bruce Whitehead, Courtney’s father, was Athenians AD for many years.

Courtney Whitehead played three seasons of college baseball — two at Indiana University Purdue University (IUPUI) for Bret Shambaugh and one at Goshen College for Todd Bacon

Purdue University presented Whitehead with a Secondary Education degree in 2000. He earned a masters in Athletic Administration from Western Kentucky University in 2013. Whitehead is also in charge of awards for the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

As AD at Park Tudor, Whitehead oversees an athletic department that has 20 varsity teams, including baseball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls softball, girls tennis, boys track and field and girls track and field in the spring.

“I’ve got good people to help me to manage events and good set of coaches,” says Whitehead. “We communicate well.”

Whitehead began his coaching career at Lowell (Ind.) High School, assisting Kirk Kennedy in football and Mike Magley in basketball.

He was then a football assistant to Sean Tomey at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the same school year that he helped Jamie Sailors with Harrison High School (West Lafayette) baseball.

Assisting Whitehead at Park Tudor in 2021 are Toby Rogers, Fred Pinch and Madison Foster with the varsity and Brent Smith and Lane Waters with the JV. Rogers played high school ball at Bloomington South then at IUPUI for Shambaugh. Pinch is from the Washington D.C. area. Foster, a 2012 Park Tudor graduate, played for Whitehead and was on three consecutive semistate teams before playing at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.

Brent Smith is the father of former Whitehead player Calvin Smith. Harrison graduate Waters played baseball for the Raiders then basketball at Calvin University in Michigan.

Courtney and wife Beth have two sons and a daughter — all attending Park Tudor — freshman Nolan (as in Nolan Ryan), sixth grader Camden (as in Camden Yards in Baltimore) and second grader Addison (as in Clark and Addison, site of Wrigley Field in Chicago). 

“My wife is a big sports and baseball person,” says Courtney Whitehead.

Many of Whitehead’s relatives are in the Nappanee/Bremen area.

A.J. Whitehead, who was a basketball standout at NorthWood High School in Nappanee and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is associate director of strength and conditioning at Purdue.

Courtney Whitehead is head baseball coach and athletic director at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.

Leadership development priority for Kindig’s Argos Dragons

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing leadership is an emphasis as the Argos (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School baseball program comes back from a season without games with a familiar face leading the Dragons.

Joe Kindig, an assistant in 2017 and head coach in 2018 and 2019, has adopted Bill Walsh’s Standards of Performance as part of Argos baseball.

Copies hang in the Dragons dugout and a point or two is highlighted on a daily basis during practice. 

“You only get to do sports for so long and then you are put into the working world, I would like to see my players be good men in society,” says Kindig, who has two sons — junior Dylan and freshman Jackson — on the team and another — Ian (pitching and catching coach) — on a staff that also features Chris Lacher (bench coach) and Todd Montgomery (assistant head coach and father of Dragons batboy/manager Brady). “This helps with that foundation, not just by talking for a few minutes but emphasizing that is also carries over into the classroom as well.

“It is a very good approach and if you live, breathe and adopt those 19 standards not just in baseball but work/job, any other leadership role they have later in life, then they are going to be great contributors to society and leaders down the road.”

Kindig notes that leadership is not just for captains, it’s for everybody.

And it’s not just about bats and balls at Argos.

“We take academics serious, we follow up with kids who may be struggling with grades and try to get them help if needed via tutoring, or any other program that may help them get a better understanding of the subject matter,” says Kindig.

The 2021 Dragons have 17 players — three with previous high school experience — for a varsity-only schedule.

“We’re trying to understand how the game works, situations and things like that,” says Kindig. “We’re basically trying to build everything from the ground up.

“We want to get kids started (playing baseball) as young as we can and bring them up through the ranks. We want to make things as fun as possibly and see if we can start competing again for those sectional and regional titles.”

Argos (enrollment around 150) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Career Academy of South Bend, Lakeland Christian Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Career Academy is not fielding a team this spring. LCA and Trinity do not have baseball programs.

The Dragons are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Culver Community, LaCrosse (the 2021 host), Oregon-Davis, South Central (Union Mills) and Triton. Argos won its lone sectional title in 1998.

Besides conference and sectional foes, the ’21 schedule includes Caston, Covenant Christian, John Glenn, Kouts, LaVille, North Miami, Tippecanoe Valley and West Central.

Argos plays its home games behind the school building. The wish list for the field is new bullpens, a fresh coat of paint on the dugouts plus new dirt for the infield.

During the summer, Argos enters a team in the wood bat Plymouth Junior League. There’s also an Argos Youth League for younger players.

There has been talk of establishing an Argos American Legion Post 68 team for high school age players.

Post 68 was going to field a team in 2020 until COVID-19 came along.

Another way to build up and spark interested in the sport is through winter camps.

Sam Rowe, a 2020 Argos graduate, is on the baseball team at Bethel University in Mishawaka. 

A Bethel graduate — Eric Stults — graduated from Argos and pitched in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves and in Japan with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

Kindig grew up in Mishawaka, Ind., and played in the Inter-City Catholic League. In 1998, he graduated from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School, where he ran track and played football. He lives in Argos with wife Amy and sons and is a cost account for Valmont Industries in Plymouth.

Argos (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School baseball coaches (from left): assistant Chris Lacher, head coach Joe Kindig and assistants Todd Montgomery and Ian Kindig. (Steve Krah 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)

Mattingly grateful for chance to make impact with Asbury U.

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Eagles of Asbury University are on the rise in the NAIA baseball world.

The private school 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky.,  went from 18-35 in 2017 to 20-22 in 2018 to 24-22 in 2019 to 14-4 in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season with Manny Cervantes as head coach. 

In 2018, the Eagles lost many pitchers and position players to injury and still had a chance to be one of the six teams in the River States Conference tournament.

Asbury was hot and cold in the first half of 2019. After being swept in a three-game series with Cincinnati Christian University, the team re-focused and went 15-9 the rest of the way with the Eagles’ first-ever series win at Indiana University Southeast.

Before 2020 was cut short, Asbury won 11 of its last 13 games.

Cervantes brought Brandon Mattingly on board as Asbury as pitching coach in ’17 and the team earned run average has shrank each year from 6.68 to 5.78 to 4.28 to 2.47.

Mattingly, 35, has earned a reputation as a pitching instructor and top-flight recruiter.

In 1998, Mattingly played for a team — St. Matthews American — that came one game from making the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

At 18, he was in a very different place.

A 2003 graduate of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Mattingly went to West Lafayette, Ind., to be a pitcher for Purdue University. 

An injury to the right-hander kept him from getting into a game for the Boilermakers and Mattingly moved on from the game and transferred to Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette and received an Associate of Arts degree then moved back to Louisville.

Mattingly was studying Political Science and in the Pre-Law honors program at the University of Louisville when he shifted and started his own real estate title business. He now works as a title examiner, doing a lot of jobs with Sutton Real Estate.

He stumbled into the opportunity to coach with the Vipers Baseball Club travel organization and was with 18U and 17U teams in 2014 and 2015.

“Barry Pennybaker gave me the opportunity to work with pitchers,” says Mattingly. “I built a rapport with those young men quickly.”

Mattingly was later made the main pitching coach for 16U through 18U Vipers.

It was while coaching the Vipers in a summer tournament hosted by Asbury in 2016 that Mattingly met Cervantes.

“He let me know that his pitching coach had just moved on,” says Mattingly. “He told me his vision of building into the top team in the region.”

Cervantes encouraged Mattingly to apply for the position.

“He was very gracious in allowing me that opportunity,” says Mattingly of Cervantes. “He spoke highly of me to board members and the athletic director. He put himself on the line for me.

“I had no experience coaching college baseball.”

Mattingly does not regret his decision.

“This is a place I belong,” says Mattingly. “They have allowed me to come into their world and be involved with some of the best people I’ve ever met.

“It’s important to me that I’m able to express how grateful I am to be at Asbury.”

Mattingly started at Asbury in the fall of 2016.

“We had talented young men on the roster, but not as much depth as other schools,” says Mattingly. “We were still shifting the culture to winning while reflecting God’s grace.”

With hunger for championships, Mattingly began using his relationships built through the Vipers to bring in student-athletes that could have an immediate impact for the Eagles.

“We made it pretty clear pretty quickly that we were going to be a player in recruiting baseball talent,” says Mattingly. “The ability to develop relationships with younger players gave us a leg up.”

Not as stringent as the NCAA recruiting calendar, the NAIA allows for this.

“Developing relationships is the priority,” says Mattingly. “You get a lot of opportunities to talk with these young men and their parents.

Mattingly lets them know they are interest in them as an athlete, student and a child of God.

“We treat them with respect,” says Mattingly.

Besides Asbury, baseball-playing schools in the River States Conference are Alice Lloyd College (Pippa Passes, Ky.), Brescia University (Owensboro, Ky.), Indiana University Kokomo (Ind.), Indiana University Southeast (New Albany, Ind.), Midway (Ky.) University, Oakland City (Ind.), University, Ohio Christian University (Circleville, Ohio), Point Park University (Pittsburgh, Pa.), University of Rio Grande (Ohio) and West Virginia University Institute of Technology (Beckley, W.Va.).

Among others in the area are the University of the Cumberlands (Williamsburg, Ky.), Campbellsville (Ky.) University, Georgetown (Ky.) College, Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.), University of Pikeville (Ky.) and Thomas More University (Crestview Hills, Ky.).

“Eyes pay attention to this part of the country,” says Mattingly. “We want to make dents in those recruiting classes.”

After the COVID lockdown, some Asbury players were able to play in the College Summer League at Grand Park (Westfield, Ind.) and the Commonwealth Collegiate Baseball League in Lexington, Ky.

Granted an extra year of eligibility, four Kentucky-bred seniors — right-hander Will McDonald, left fielder Colton Back, first baseman/designated hitter C.J. Compton and righty reliever Austin Jennings — decided to come back for a fifth year in 2021. McDonald is the ace of the pitching staff and joins back Back as a second-year team captain. 

First baseman Paul Haupt and center fielder Garrett McIntire — a pair of juniors — can track their relationship with Brandon back to the Vipers.

Mattingly has also been pitching coach for the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash since 2017 (minus the canceled 2020 season) and has built relationships with coaches and players in the southern part of Indiana.

The Asbury roster features junior right-handed pitcher/infielder Walker Paris (Mt. Vernon), sophomore infielder Gabe Falcone (Silver Creek) and three freshmen — right-handed pitchers Wes Allen (Southridge) and Cameron Crick (Greenwood Community) and infielder Alex Stroud (Roncalli).

Payton Mattingly (no relation to Brandon) was an Asbury senior in 2020 after playing at Southridge High (for father Gene) and Olney (Ill.) Central Community College.

Former Flash left-hander Andy Samuelson (a graduaate of LaPorte, Ind., High School) was drafted in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

Brandon Mattingly has been the baseball pitching coach at Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky., since 2017. He is also the recruiting coordinator. He has been pitching coach for the summer collegiate Henderson (Ky.) Flash since 2017 and got his coaching start with the Louisville-based Vipers Baseball Club. ( Henderson Flash Photo)

Bethel U. graduate Thompson leads MidAmerica Nazarene baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2021 college baseball season will mark the 15th as head coach for Ryan Thompson at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.

Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.

As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.

“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”

Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.

In the fall of 1995, Thompson was a 17-year-old walk-on at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where the Blue Knights head coach was — and still is — Dennis Conley.

“He was a great coach,” says Thompson of Conley. “He was intense and demanding. It helped me grow up and mature.”

Familiar with area junior college baseball from his time at Southern Illinois University, Riggleman recruited Thompson to Bethel.

“I love Sam,” says Thompson. “We still talk frequently.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggleman has been on several Zoom calls with the MidAmerica Nazarene coaching staff.

Thompson recalls Riggleman as a fierce yet caring coach.

“Sam left the benchmark in my mind,” says Thompson. “I remember what the practices were like. 

“(Players) really respected him.”

Among his Pilots teammates were Indiana high school products Craig Sherwood (Elkhart Central), Jeremie Riggleman (Mishawaka), Seth Zartman (Caston), Brian Blondell (South Bend Washington), Ryan Takach (Penn), Shawn Summe (Penn) and Allen Hodge (Goshen). 

Jeremie Riggleman, a shortstop at Bethel, is Sam’s son. 

Zartman has been head baseball coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. 

Blondell was a Bethel assistant and head coach at Holy Cross College and is the founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel organization. 

Takach was in the Arizona Diamondbacks chain, including a stint with the 2000 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, and in indy ball.

Former college baseball coach Summe is now athletic director at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. — less than 20 miles from MidAmerica Nazarene.

Thompson, Takach and Blondell were the top pitchers on the 1998 Bethel team which lost to Indiana Tech in the NAIA regional.

Thompson got to know Hutcheon as a player then coached for him for three seasons each as pitching coach at Bethel and Air Force Academy.

“Hutch is a great communicator and recruiter,” says Thompson. “He’s a good friend as well.

“I enjoyed my time with him.”

Thompson also maintained contact with Siler and received a visit from him in the summer of 2019.

“He was a numbers guy and taught me so much,” says Thompson of Siler, who died July 20, 2020 at 84. “I just learned so much from him.”

Thompson coached future professional pitchers Eric Stults, David Humen and Greg Kloosterman.

Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.

Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.

At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.

Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.

In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.

Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.

Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.

MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.

“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.

Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.

The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.

Ryan Thompson, a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is entering his 15th season as head baseball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2021. (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Former Indiana U., MLB infielder Morandini enjoying ambassador role with Phillies

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mickey Morandini’s baseball talents took him through 1,298 games in Major League Baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays.

The lefty-swinging infielder played in 1,298 regular-season games plus the 1993 World Series and got to represent the USA in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He has coached in the Phillies organization and is now in his third year as a team ambassador.

A big part of Morandini’s diamond development came in his four seasons (1985-88) at Indiana University, playing for Bob Morgan who served as Hoosiers head coach 1984-2005.

“(Morgan) worked our butts off,” says Morandini, who went to IU from Leechburg (Pa.) Area Middle/Senior High School near Pittsburgh, where he played for Blue Devils head coach Bob Obendorf. “Everyday was a grind.

“I got a lot better and a lot stronger.”

Morgan operated with a very set routine. He rolled out drill after drill and players moved from station to station when the whistle blew.

“It was upset and there was a lot of throwing,” says Morandini. “There were no breaks.

“At the end of a two-hour practice, you were exhausted.”

Morandini played third base as a freshman and then switched to shortstop. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1987 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but decided not to sign and went back to Indiana for his senior season and earned second-team All-America honors.

“It was a tough decision to go back to college,” says Morandini. “I’m from Pittsburgh and grew up a huge Pirates fan. But I had the opportunity to play on the Olympic team.”

Morandini, who was dating Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate and future wife Peg, was chosen to go to Korea and helped the USA capture gold at Seoul. First, there was a U.S. tour at minor league parks then games in Italy and Japan. 

“It was an awesome experience,” says Morandini. “I was in the Olympic village hanging out with other athletes.”

Morandini was close to an Elementary Education degree at Indiana. He just didn’t do his student teaching.

Mickey and wife Peg have three sons — Jordan, Griffin and Braydon. The two older boys now live in Indianapolis. Mickey enjoys coming back to IU baseball reunions each October. When the 2020 event was canceled, he put together an impromptu gathering of about 18 players who played golf and spent time together at a lake near Bloomington, Ind.

Chosen in the fifth round of the 1988 MLB Draft by the Phillies, Morandini began his professional career in 1989 by hitting .338 in 63 games at Low-A Spartanburg, .302 in 17 games at High-A Clearwater and .351 in 48 games at Double-A Reading.

“I turned a lot of heads,” says Morandini, who hit .260 in 139 games in 1990 at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre and made his MLB debut with Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 1990. 

His first big-league hit was a 10th-inning single off San Diego Padres right-hander Greg Harris. He later scored the game-winning run on a single by John Kruk.

Morandini, who played most of his MLB games as a second baseman, collected four hits in the 1993 National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves and one in the 1993 World Series against the Blue Jays.

He was an NL All-Star in 1995, the year he hit .283. 

Morandini spent the 1998 and 1999 seasons with the Cubs.

By the time he was dealt to Chicago a few days before Christmas in 1997 Morandini had already lived in northwest Indiana the better part of eight years.

“It was a lot of fun,” says Morandini of his time with the Cubs. “It was a perfect fit. I could drive back and forth to the ballpark. I love Wrigley (Field).”

The 1998 season gave Morandani an up-close view of a pennant race, Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game and the home run battle between Sammy Sosa of Chicago and Mark McGwire of St. Louis.

“It was great to be a part of,” says Morandini, who appeared in the National League Divisional Series for the Cubs against Atlanta and appeared in the same lineup with another former IU playerKevin Orie — 44 times in 1998.

Mickey Mo was with both the Phillies (91 games) and Blue Jays (35 games) in 2000. He went to spring training with Toronto before a rotator cuff issues essentially ended his playing career.

Morandini posted a .268 batting average (1,222-for-4558) with 597 runs, 209 doubles, 54 triples, 32 home runs, 351 runs batted in, 123 stolen bases, 437 bases on balls, .338 on-base percentage and .359 slugging percentage. He finished his career with a .989 fielding percentage as a second baseman.

With the Blue Jays, Morandini was reunited with Jim Fregosi, who had been the Phillies manager for the end of the 1991 season through 1996.

“He had been in the game a long, long time as a player and a coach,” says Morandini of Fregosi. “He knew base ball. He was he first manager that brought me to the big leagues and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

“For him, as long as you played the game and played it the right way, that’s all he could ask for. He knew when to get on you and knew when to pat you on the back. He was really good with dealing with personalities.”

Back in Indiana, Morandini enjoyed coaching his sons in youth and travel baseball. 

He was approached about becoming the head baseball coach at Valparaiso High School.

“It was intriguing,” says Morandini of the opportunity. “I love coaching kids.

“I jumped on it.”

Morandini led the Vikings program for four seasons (2007-10) while Jordan and Griffin were at neighboring Chesterton High School.

“I was going to continue then minor league opportunity came up,” says Morandini, who spent five years coaching in the minors and two in the big leagues prior to Gabe Kapler becoming manager and hiring his own coaches — all with the Phillies organization — before taking his current position. 

As ambassador, the 54-year-old Morandini is the face of the organization and makes many public appearances and attends games at Citizens Bank Ballpark

“I mingle with fans and season ticket holders, go to hospitals and play in charity golf tournaments,” says Morandini, who spends most of his time in the Philly area with a short trip to Clearwater, Fla., to entertain sponsors at spring training. “I love it. It’s an awesome job. I get to meet and greet people.”

Mickey Morandini talks about gripping a baseball. (Philadelphia Phillies Video)
Mickey Morandini, who played baseball at Indiana University 1985-88 and then in Major League Baseball from 1990-2000 with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays, is now a team ambassador for the Phillies. (Philadelphia Phillies Photo)